Maan Mahmoud: Friend to the Trees Since 1979
By: Dany al-Amine
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Sixty-six year old Maan Mahmoud, from Hula in the Marjeyoun District, picks his way through the neglected trees. Unaided, he tends to them, nursing them back to health.
On this trip, Maan went beyond the town limits of Hula, heading for the tall turpentine trees, some more than 600 years old. “They are certainly much older than the ministries of environment and agriculture,” according to Maan.
He is furious because people have been damaging the trees, putting the remaining ones at risk of drying up and dying; so he took it upon himself to care for them.
The residents of Marjeyoun and Bint Jbeil know these turpentine trees well, and often come here in the spring and summer to sit in their shade. But now, people have taken to building campfires against the trees.
“Their trunks have been burnt. Only a few have not been damaged,” Maan said. “They are at risk of falling down, so I rushed here today, leaving all my other chores, to resuscitate them.”
He fills up the large pits caused by the vandals’ fires, using sand and concrete. To pay for the materials, Maan used what little is available to him from his pension. He said, “They have ruined these places, and have no regard for the old trees whose history is intrinsic to that of Lebanon.”
The “retiree” also built fire rings at a distance, for the visitors to use far from the tree trunks. “I used my own car to move the bricks, sand and water, and built these fire pits,” he said.
Sadly, there are some who are trying to undermine his efforts. They destroyed the fire rings he built repeatedly; “But I will not be deterred,” he asserted. Mahmoud criticizes the municipal councils, which he said have limited his environmental activities.
He did say that the Hula municipality had put some effort into planting trees, which has relieved him from a lot of his duties related to the environment and tree planting - a task which he started out doing thirty years ago, along with many of the town’s residents.
In 1979, Maan Mahmoud, then a schoolteacher in Hula, planted his first trees at the expense of students from his school, who donated their pocket money to buy 50 trees. Under the supervision of their tutor, they then planted them on both sides of the town’s main road.
Maan Mahmoud carried on with these efforts after many youths in Hula joined him, and together, they organized themselves and collected donations to plant as many trees as possible in the town’s streets and neighborhoods.
With the Israeli occupation, however, the “Tree Friends,” as they called themselves, left the town, except Mahmoud, who stayed behind, defying the occupation by planting trees.
He would print a calendar under the name of the Tree Friends Association each year, selling it to the townsfolk to pay for the shrubs that were going to be planted. Sometimes, he had to borrow money to cover the printing costs, and would enlist the help of some of his students to plant the trees, despite the dangers of moving through the streets and neighborhoods at the time.
The Tree Friends did not limit themselves to tree planting, and expanded their activities to include caring for old trees, such as the Tree of al-Hajjeh, which is more than 400 years old.
The association also built small parks and restored the old well-spring of Wadi al-Dallafa, whose age even the old people of the town do not know.
The association branched out to neighboring towns, planting many trees in Mais al-Jabal, Bint Jbeil and Marjeyoun. After the liberation of South Lebanon, the association received support from the Ministry of Social Affairs, which at the time sponsored agricultural and development projects worth more than LL200 million in cooperation with the association, according to Maan Mahmoud.
Of course, the achievements of the Tree Friends were not spared from Israeli attacks, which destroyed more than 150 trees, and several small tree-lined parks. Today, despite the difficulties that the Tree Friend faces in his old age, he has decided to carry on, armed, as he puts it, with the support of the people of Hula and their appreciation for his achievements.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.