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Bourj Al Shamali Refugee Camp Public Square & Community Garden Centre, Lebanon
Fall semester 2017
This   project   is   part   of   Greening   Bourj   Al   Shamali   ( http://bourjalshamali.org/ ),   an   initiative   by   the   local   committee   of   Bourj   Al   Shamali,   a   Palestinian refugee   camp   in   south   Lebanon,   to   create   the   camp's   first   public   green   space   along   with   a   community   garden.   AHO’s   Scarcity   and   Creativity Studio,   Oslo,   has   been   invited   to   support   the   local   community’s   efforts   and   to   explore   the   opportunity   of   working   with   them   on   this   endeavor. The   two   preliminary   initiatives   are:   (i)   the   creation   of   a   communal   space   with   street   furniture   for   the   camp's   first   public   green   square/space;   and (ii)   a   workshop   cabin   for   the   camp's   new   community   garden.   For   both   these   initiatives,   AHO   will   be   working   with   the   local   community,   and   AHO students    will    be    joined    by    a    group    of    youth    who    have    been    trained    in    construction    work    by    the    vocational    center    in    the    camp ( http://www.socialcare.org/portal/vocational-training/16/ ).
The Setting: Bourj   Al   Shamali   was   founded   in   1948   as   a   temporary   camp   for   Palestinian   refugees   coming   mainly   from   the   agricultural   regions   of   Tiberias   and Hawla.   Now,   over   half   a   century   later   and   housing   22,000   people,   it   has   taken   on   the   air   of   an   overcrowded,   unplanned,   permanent   city,   with   five times   the   original   inhabitants   occupying   the   original   site   run   by   the   UN.   The   dogma   of   its   temporariness   remains   unquestioned   even   among   its third-   and   fourth-generation   residents,   who   dream   still   of   returning   to   their   villages   and   farms   in   Palestine,   now   Israel   –   for   some   just   35   kilometers away   from   the   camp   where   they   reside.   This   insistence   on   the   camp’s   temporary   nature,   central   to   the   status   of   a   refugee,   has   for   more   than   six decades yielded a long and persistent refusal to create any urban amenities in the camp. Though   the   inhabitants   of   Bourj   Al   Shamali   regard   themselves   as   an   agricultural   people   -   as   evidenced   by   the   many   painted   murals   in   the   camp   - there   are   no   public   green   spaces   there,   nor   do   they   plant   crops   that   might   supply   some   of   the   camp’s   food   needs   and   thereby   sustain   their traditional   link   to   the   land.   Few   plants   are   grown,   even   for   pleasure,   and   the   only   green   spaces   are   a   few   trees   scattered   in   a   sea   of   concrete.   The lush   private   fields   where   many   camp   residents   work   as   seasonal   workers   all   lie   beyond   the   camp's   perimeter.   The   feeling   in   Bourj   Al   Shamali   has long   been   that   the   planting   of   crops   or   trees,   which   literally   involve   the   act   of   putting   down   roots,   would   seem   to   imply   an   acceptance   of   the   camp’s permanence.   Yet   the   tragic   consequence   of   this   is   that   the   camp   has   become   an   unrelievedly   dense,   increasingly   unlivable   urban   environment, while   each   successive   generation   of   camp   dwellers   has   had   an   ever   weaker   connection   to   the   agricultural   life   that   remains   so   centrally   enshrined   in the   community’s   self-image.   In   a   symbolic   way,   they   are   undermining   their   right   of   return:   if   they   were   ever   to   be   restored   to   the   land   they   cherish, they   would   not   know   how   to   look   after   it.   As   a   collateral   consequence,   diets   are   worsening   and   cases   of   malnutrition   have   increased.   To   add   a further   level   of   complexity,   large   numbers   of   Palestinian   refugees   from   Syria   have   now   moved   into   Bourj   Al   Shamali.   The   arrival   of   these   twice-over refugees   has   resulted   in   a   deterioration   of   the   already   overcrowded   living   conditions,   and   raised   new   questions   in   the   camp   about   different   notions and identities of being a Palestinian refugee.
Cultivating the earth and using the land to provide food is central to the notion of “rootedness, [and to] ideas of home and belonging, of locality and identity”; it also plays a crucial role in mitigating “the social and environmental dangers of change and modernization.”(1) With the creation of a green public square/space and a community garden, this project aims to improve conditions in the camp, but also to confront and, hopefully, reverse these destructive trends in a manner that remains sensitive to and respectful of the community’s own way of dreaming its future; one that, in the process, raises wider questions of identity, temporality, extraterritoriality and our connection with the land. Project Program: For the future community garden, a workshop cabin/room is needed (approximate size is 4 x 8 meters). The new proposed cabin/room will be a child-friendly multi-purpose space that allows for meetings and lessons on food, gardening, agriculture, food processing, the environment, and other subjects. It will contain a basic kitchen as well as a space for meetings and group activities. The workshop cabin/room needs to be locked up and when in use to be open to the garden with a sense of openness and airiness. From the workshop/cabin space, one should be able to have a good overview of the future community garden. Ideally it creates a space outside where people can sit in the shade and even cultivate grapes, while children play or others look after the garden. It possible, on the side of the workshop cabin/room, there should be a space to store gardening tools that can be accessed without opening the whole cabin/room. There is currently no plan for the whole garden, leaving flexibility for the location of the workshop cabin/room. The school with special needs will be built at the entrance on the southern side of the plot. The space for the community garden is close to the refugee camp (10 minutes walk) but not within it. Close by is the patch of land used as a football pitch by people of all ages from the camp. In Feburary 2017, a workshop was held at the main library in Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp, seeking feedback on what people wanted from a green space in the camp. Here are their ideas: A place full of green plants, vegetables, herbs and fruits A green space, with seats, where people can relax A safe space for kids to play A place where people can learn about wellness & nature A place that people can use for parties and to celebrate A place to learn about plants A place with benches where disabled and elderly can come to spend time and be in the open A place where open-air educational programmes can be organized A place where an open air cinema or concert could be organized A place that can inspire Bourj Al Shamali residents to think of environment & help resolve garbage problems in camp Other things people wanted: swings, fountains & swimming pool!!!
For more information on the camp, please see: https://placesjournal.org/article/camp-code/
Bourj Al Shamali Camp is located 3 kms. east of Tyre, Lebanon.
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Students:  Helene Denise, Marie Høgevold, Mette Kristoffersen, Miriam Kvaleberg, Emilie Mendiboure, Ola Mo, Stian Nærøy, Adèle Pariset, Andrea Rosengren, Ingeborg Svalheim, Xiaoxiao Zhang, Zheng Zhou, Oreste Kamanzi, Noah Stutchbury, Mikala Kjær, Illia Marynin Staff: Christian Hermansen Cordua, Solveig Sandness, Tone Selmer-Olsen, Håvard Breivik