Getting Their Hands Dirty: F2F Volunteers Collaborate to Preserve Lebanon’s Biodiversity

F2F MENA volunteers team up to support a mission-driven environmental organization

Green Hand Organization (GHO) in Lebanon is one of only ten United Nations accredited environmental organizations in the Arab world. GHO was founded with the mission of preserving Lebanon’s extraordinary biodiversity. With this mission, GHO is constantly expanding its portfolio and taking on new cultural preservation and youth engagement-focused initiatives. These activities made GHO the perfect host organization for volunteers to support its organizational development and the execution of its projects through the Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa (F2F MENA) Program.

While working with and supporting GHO, Karen Barnett, a F2F MENA volunteer and organizational development expert, noted, “They are really passionate about a lot of things, but they were struggling with having so many projects.” Luckily, said Karen, “What’s special about Zaher (Zaher Redwan, chairman of GHO) is that he’s open to listening and wants critical feedback.” Zaher’s ability to listen and integrate feedback into GHO’s programming has not only proved vital to GHO’s success but instrumental in effectively and successfully working with volunteer experts through the F2F MENA Program.

GHO’s exceptional work and the openness of Zaher has encouraged many volunteers, like Karen, to continue their work with GHO and even return to Lebanon for multiple assignments. Karen recollects, “When I first volunteered, they had a million projects but I drafted an organizational structure to streamline operations.” When she returned for her second assignment, Karen found GHO had taken her recommendations to heart, and was progressing through their projects with “laser focus” and attention.

GHO’s new organizational and operational structure allowed them to focus on and improve one of their most innovative projects to-date: the world’s first mobile botanical garden. GHO’s mobile botanical garden is housed on an old school bus and travels to different sites to educate the public about Lebanon’s rich biodiversity. Another F2F MENA volunteer and environmental education expert, Amy Goeppinger, worked with GHO to design a rotating curriculum based on hands-on activities for the mobile garden’s school visits. This curriculum and associated activities enables Lebanese school children to engage fully with the mobile botanical garden’s mission.

Further support for the mobile botanical garden was provided by another F2F MENA volunteer, Vickie Andrews, a proposal development expert, who enjoyed volunteering with GHO so much that she completed three volunteer assignments. With Vickie’s input and guidance, GHO submitted a concept note for the mobile botanical garden that made it to the semi-finals of the MIT Pan Arab Enterprise Forum competition. Although the concept did not win the competition, the exposure and experience GHO gained through their participation in the competition has equipped them with the skills and tools needed to tackle complex projects and proposals in the future. Since the competition and Vickie’s proposal training, GHO has written and submitted six additional proposals for up to $250,000 in value.

Vickie, Karen and Dana Gulley, another F2F MENA volunteer and organizational development expert, also supported GHO with the initiation of its Authentic Aley Project. The goal of the Authentic Aley Project is to create opportunities for eco-tourism in the Aley District. Through a collaborative and targeted effort, all three of these volunteers were instrumental in developing the strategic plan for Authentic Aley. This strategy is now being implemented in 20 villages and will provide GHO with a framework to expand and scale its initiative as well as tailor the strategy to the specific needs of other villages. According to Zaher, the development of the strategic plan for Authentic Aley was one of the most successful and impactful volunteer-supported initiatives provided through the F2F MENA Program.

Having volunteers work together and in sequence added a great deal of value to the program’s support to GHO and GHO’s overall capacity to positively impact Lebanon. Zaher mentioned that volunteers often came for one specific assignment but ended up helping GHO with many aspects of their organization, while forging a relationship that has lasted well beyond the duration of their assignments. “They were up late, working long hours to make sure everything was a success,” Zaher reflected, “The volunteers we had were the best – they put their heart and souls into each assignment.”

Founded in 1985, USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program provides technical assistance from U.S. volunteers to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries with the goal of promoting sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural processing, production and marketing. IESC is a partner to Land O’Lakes International Development on the Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa Program, which works to enhance food safety and quality and increase access to rural finance in Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco.

This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.