Refutrees Scratches Eco and Social Itches with Refugee Projects

refutrees logo for refugees in the west bankToday is World Refugee Day. Some good news for a change: Refutrees is a new non-profit that’s turning the traditional aid-centric model of development on its head. These self-described “creativity agents” place particular focus on people displaced over the long-term. They’re currently working on projects for Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Lebanon.

Raising the question “how temporary is temporary?”, they break from existing platforms that warehouse refugee communities without addressing environmental concerns that powerfully affect daily life.

Refutrees cooks up environmentally responsive projects in displaced communities that also create sustainable employment. Similar to artist Jean Bradbury’s approach with the Safi artisans, there’s a catalytic assist at the start, but project control and management ultimately pass to the locals.

Refutrees creates projects that are sustainable, entrepreneurial, and responsive to the direct needs of local communities. Select projects also address persistent issues of land and water degradation.

Founder and CEO Lamya Hussain had engaged with refugee communities early in her academic career. Her extensive field research exposed a dearth of projects in camp settings that served more than one purpose. Why not dream up multifaceted schemes? Ventures that intersect health, environment, art and energy? And, while you’re at it, create jobs.

Many indigenous communities hold a relationship with their land that is as spiritual as it is socioeconomic, a reality at odds with ad hoc camp infrastructure which typically lacks”town planning” or access to personal greenspace. There’s a scarcity of communal open space, gardens, parks or playgrounds. Speaking with United Nations Relief and Works Agency affiliates, Hussain discovered there is frequently no clear strategy to tackle these issues that have critical impact on camp residents.

So Refutrees is kicking off a pilot to build rooftop gardens to allow communities to grow their own organic produce – which creates new greenspace – and improves environmental aesthetics. This project will efficiently utilize limited space within the camps.  It creates an opportunity for urban agriculture that encourages entrepreneurship while promoting healthy diets.

Sound like an initiative you could support? They’re currently raising funds for the rooftop gardens – check out their website for details. They’re seeking experts who can advise on scheme improvements such as identifying a wider variety of vegetables to grow, and how best to tackle issues of local water restrictions.

Refutrees is also working on an eco-art project to address the lack of safe spaces for camp children. The Aida refugee camp (outside Bethlehem in the West Bank) is fundraising to build a children’s recreational space, and Refutrees seeks artists to design a scheme for up-cycling local waste into a functional and green playground.

You can read more about Refutrees here. Match their multipurpose mandate by supporting them, and you ‘ll scratch two itches (social responsibility and increased environmentalism) with one action.

Image from Refutrees Facebook page

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