While moving strategically to decentralize its operation to remote areas, the Society for the protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) established Homat al Hima International Center (HHIC) at Kherbet Qanafar, Western Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, with the generous funding of MAVA & SRT . The center which has been founded on a feasibility study, ensuring its success being central to the West Bekaa Country Club (WBCC), a resort attracting thousands of customers annually, has yet stood resilient to closure of the latter, following the health and financial crisis hitting Lebanon. Indeed, it a story of success and perseverance at global and national crisis times.
February 2020 marked the soft opening of HHIC at WBCC, while hosting a workshop event of the Praxis Team at the University of Leeds entitled “Heritage for Global Challenges”. The academics and researchers, who chose HHIC and WBCC as their workshop destination, have proudly reported contentment with the setting, surrounding Hima sites and hospitality of the local communities. Inspired by the Hima approach to natural and cultural preservation, the group generously donated to the local communities through purchasing products from HHIC gift shop and planting cedar trees, as part of SPNL and Air France-KLM campaign, “A Tree for you Beloved”. The organizer Ms. Lauren Wray expressed her gratitude ending her letter of appreciation saying “I would strongly recommend anyone considering booking an event at the WBCC and HHIC to do so, they will have an unforgettable stay in the best possible way!”.
Following this propitious start, HHIC was getting prepared to host the Hima regional workshop co-organized by SPNL and the International Union for Conservation of Nature-Regional Office for West Asia (IUCN-ROWA). However, towards late February, Coronavirus had started sweeping into Lebanon and the whole country was under lock-down by mid-March. To the virus which has shattered lives, disrupted markets, and challenged governments’ competencies, Lebanon was no exception. Unfortunately, the collapse of the economy along with civil unrest which started autumn 2020, have been aggravated by the pandemic, and pushed the Lebanese well beyond their capacity. Unfortunately, WBCC, which had commanded high visibility for HHIC, could no longer sustain its operation and was forced to shut down.
SPNL has founded Hima revival approach as means to ensure nature conservation, cultural preservation as well as sustainable livelihoods. Serving local communities has been core mission to SPNL at peace and war times. As expected, SPNL stood by the Hima communities to fight the health and economic crisis. HHIC launched an emergency plan to respond to the crisis, including serving local people. A total of 400 food portions were distributed to locked-down disadvantaged families at the Hima of Kherbet Qanafar and Ain Zebde in West Bekaa as well as Hammana and Keyfoun in Mount Lebanon. To aid municipalities in responding to the pandemic, HHIC, in cooperation with Litani River Authority (LRA), refurbished a center at Kherbet Qanafar to serve as a quarantine facility for the region, with a capacity of seven beds.
As part of its emergency plan, HHIC launched its own Hima Farm, a model of small-scale sustainable agricultural, under SPNL Hima Farm programme The farm targets employing nature-based farming methods to provide healthy high-quality produce while ensuring environmental preservation, biodiversity conservation and economic viability. In addition to providing support for interested community members to replicate this farming model, HHIC started to offer its fresh produce across Hima villages.
It seems there remains a window of hope in Lebanon despite being on the verge of collapse. People are starting to acknowledge the role of nature conservation in sustaining their lives and livelihoods and appreciate surrounding natural world. HHIC intends to invest in this opportunity through offering nature-based products and services. HHIC is promoting, through its Souk el Hima (gift shop), locally produced nature-friendly food products, including wine, honey, jam, distilled products and natural syrups. In addition, the center is providing various eco-touristic packages pertaining to different forms of responsible tourism. So far, visiting groups have been extremely satisfied with the products and services offered by HHIC and have commended on the role which HHIC and SPNL play in connecting people back to nature in Lebanon.