BURJ HAMMOUD, Lebanon: Towers of green balloons, dancers, environmentalists and a local youth marching band heralded the launch of a new recycling program in Burj Hammoud Saturday. A number of young students, all recipients of scholarships from the Goguikian Foundation, devised the campaign that will encourage recycling among Armenian schools and businesses in the eastern suburb of Beirut.
“We noticed this lack of environmental consciousness in this region and overall in Lebanon,” explained Nanor Garabet, a Goguikian Foundation scholar currently completing an economics degree at Haigazian University. The students picked Burj Hammoud, she said, because “it still represents the heart of the Armenian community in Lebanon.”
Encouraging Armenian-Lebanese to be active and responsible citizens is a key aspect of the program.
“We are working with eight local schools, with six NGOs and multiple banks,” she said, struggling to make herself heard over a French pop song blaring in the background. “We’re going to distribute bags and boxes that they can [use to] separate the plastic and the paper and the cans.”
The group plans to sell the recycled material and use the funds for an as yet undetermined community project in Burj Hammoud.
Working with directly with local business leaders, activists and educators, Garabet said, will give the program a broad scope.
Convincing the community to take part in the campaign, however, was no easy task.
“At first it was hard. When we started talking to the people, they were asking, “What’s recycling? How do we do that? We’ve tried that before it doesn’t work,’” student Cynthia Najjar said.
Since learning more about the benefits of recycling and engaging with the students, the community has thrown its support behind the campaign, as evidenced by the impressive turnout at Saturday’s launch.
Crowds gathered as young girls performed Armenian dances, dressed in traditional regalia.
Haigazian University students demonstrated how to turn jettisoned school handouts into new sheets of paper with just a blender, bleach and an iron. Students looked only too happy turning a stack of readings about dangling modifiers into pulp.
One woman cut up an ice tea can, making what appeared to be an ashtray.
“We are against smoking. It’s for candles,” her friend explained.
The Lebanese American University environmental club educated people about the fur trade with pictures of skinned animals affixed to their booth.
An “eco-truck” powered in part by fuel made from the cooking grease of local restaurants was on display.
Surveying the scene was Michel Goguikian, a banker, philanthropist and founder of the Goguikian Foundation. He spoke of the recipients of his eponymous scholarship with paternal pride.
“On top of being top students in their universities and on top of the social work they do in the communities, they do things like this,” he said.
“This is the first initiative we’ve done with them,” he continued. “We want this to be the first of many more. We can do another municipality.”