Refugee communities, those facing both long and short-term displacement, are often reliant on donor resources for survival. Palestinian refugees, who number in the millions, have been displaced for decades. Multiple generations live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, Syria and the Gaza Strip, environments that often provide limited opportunities for resource and economic sovereignty. To address this, Refutrees seeks to transform the donor-recipient relationship in Palestinian refugee communities.
Founder Lamya Hussain conducted extensive research in Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) before creating the organization. What she found was that donors continued to work in emergency response mode rather than building livelihoods, implementing projects not tailored to specific community needs and that were donor-reliant. With the question, “how long is long-term displacement?” in mind, Refutrees seeks to tackle issues of urban agriculture, water, and waste management through grassroots initiatives.
The pilot program took root in Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp, a site that was established in 1950 and today holds more than 4,700 people. A community rooftop garden was put in place in conjunction with partnering organization Lajee Center. The purpose of the garden is multifold: it provides refugee populations with fresh, organic produce that they grow themselves, providing communities with ownership of the process and product, and it offers a constructive, outdoor activity with opportunities for skill development to a largely unemployed population. The projects are entirely grassroots and sustainable. Gardens also serve the purpose of reconnecting Palestinians to land through food sovereignty.
Refutrees intends to build on its project of bringing organic produce to communities by offering internships and courses that enable community members to access knowledge about urban agriculture and recycling from international experts. Through its Eco-Art Palestine initiative, Refutrees intends to create much-needed safe play areas for children. The play spaces will match the organization’s sustainable living ambitions, as they will be constructed with recycled materials. According to a previous Indiegogo campaign that helped to launch the organization, each project requires $10,000 from start to finish to finance materials, consultancy charges and administrative costs. So far, stage one – raising the first $10,000 – has been met; next, Refutrees aims to improve upon the exciting rooftop garden design, conduct research and brainstorming on social entrepreneurship models and undertake additional fundraising to provide $100,000 in scholarships.
The innovative activities undertaken by the Refutrees team inspire more questions about how they operate. For instance: How are locations selected for the rooftop gardens and how do you ensure that community members benefit equally? After the initial materials are provided, how do communities obtain the resources – like water, seeds and fertilizer – needed to sustain their prosperity? If you have questions of your own and would like to learn more about Refutrees’ initiatives, you can find more information here.