MCC Photo/Silas Crews

Jamel Ibrahim Basiouni and his grandmother Jamileh Ruheimah share a common interest in composting.

SOUTH LEBANON – Faced with the rising cost of buying fresh fruit and vegetables in local markets, many Palestinian refugee families in south Lebanon are rediscovering the benefits of using compost to enrich their gardens.

Nayfe Mohamad, 56, a mother of seven grown children, is one of many avid promoters of composting in the Shabriha gathering, an informal refugee camp of almost 3,000 Palestinian families.

Everyone in the community is encouraged to bring their kitchen and yard waste to a community demonstration plot and then use the composted material for their gardens. Six months after the collection of waste material began, 400 kg of compost had been produced.

Mohamad remembers that her father had composted organic waste that would normally have been thrown away. “The taste and smell of vegetables and fruit that my father and grandfather planted was delicious and tasty,” said Mohamad. “I want my children and grandchildren to remember how good everything tastes and smells when you use compost in gardens.”

This three-year project, started in 2010, is supported in part by a grant from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). It is implemented in eight Palestinian gatherings by an MCC partner organization, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD).

More than 400,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, representing nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population. The majority of families live in official refugee camps supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

But a sizeable number live in the informal camps, called gatherings, and rely on PARD and other nongovernment organizations to provide basic services, such as garbage collection, maintenance of water and sewage networks, health clinics and more.

The composting project is coordinated by PARD’s health educators who work in these communities through a network of community groups, said Rita Hamdan, director of PARD. Most of the people who have been trained during the first year of this project are women.

“Every gathering has women’s groups who attend health education,” said Hamdan. “From those groups we chose women who are interested in composting."

Jamileh Ruheimah, 70, had worked with farm crops when she was younger and was keen to become part of the women’s group in Qasmiyeh – almost 2,500 people who received training on composting.

Her grandson, Jamel Ibrahim Basiouni, 23, shares her interest in composting because he sees the environmental benefits of using a renewable resource to create natural fertilizer. “The best way to get rid of our garbage is to compost it,” he said.

In the Wasta gathering, a community of almost 1,000 families, Fareza Mousa, a mother of eight children, ages 8 to 24, said her family produces a large quantity of organic waste.

Before she started composting, insects and rodents were attracted to organic waste in garbage cans. Now that she is composting she has less organic waste in the garbage and an abundant supply of food and yard waste to produce home-grown, organic, nutrient-rich compost for her garden and olive trees.

“Instead of buying chemicals, we are making natural fertilizer,” she said. “It is free, it is saving us money and we can make it at home.”

As the project progresses, organizers hope that compost not needed for household gardens will be sold to create a source of income for women in the gatherings.

To see a video of this project, visit

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada.