The SOS Children’s Village in Bethlehem is the local chapter of SOS Villages Worldwide, a group of orphanages and places for children who are alone in the world. This community, founded in 1973, now has 13 houses, each for six to nine children. Each house has a “mother” who cares for the children in a family atmosphere.
One MPT team member joined some other Internationals to reclaim some of the land behind “cottage number 12” that had been used as a dumping site to burn garbage. Chris and Tobias are doing service work in Palestine as an alternative to military service in Germany. They spent days moving rocks and raking debris on three terraces.We removed old bed springs, discarded toys, shoes, broken glass and china and everything that didn't burn. Then we began raking the land into level terraces with only small rocks. The retaining walls and steps needed some repair. The view from the back of the cottage improved rapidly.
We brought our contact from an NGO called Permaculture to SOS. The Permaculture group is involved in sustainable agriculture and has the knowledge and expertise to decide what and when to plant. Working with the Palestinian gardener, the internationals, and the children, we mapped out a plan for three terraces and a community composting area. The children began the planting of the kitchen garden on the upper terrace nearest the house. We planted a few seedlings so the children would get some immediate idea of what we hoped for. The seeds will take a few weeks to begin making some statement. The children will be able to pick fresh vegetable and herbs for their meals, cutting down the reliance on imported produce.
Planting her first garden
We hope that the middle area will be filled with fava beans (called foul in Palestine and used in a breakfast dish.) This could be used as a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil and enrich the area where most of the burning took place. The Permaculture group will do a series of educational workshops for the gardener and adults to explain how to improve the soil, conserve water, and achieve some semblance of environmental independence. Today gardening tools and fertilizer are brought through Israel. We hope that by next year the composting from the 13 houses will make the fertilizer unnecessary.
Lunch is served
The Permaculture group also plans educational sessions for the children to help them understand the value of composting and recycling. The West Bank has 3.9 million people but because most of the vacant land is under Israeli control, in area C, there is not one proper garbage dump and land fill. The population density in areas under Palestinian control is too high to make garbage disposal feasible. The problems of waste disposal are monumental. We hope this is the first step in raising awareness of the problem among the young, who will inherit a polluted land.
Some of our workers with the "Mother" and gardener in front of the cottage
If the collaboration between the NGO and the orphanage is successful the children will have much more than fresh vegetables. Involving the children will deepen an understanding and love for the land that is theirs. There is a great deal to do and this is just a small step, but political sovereignty cannot occur without environmental sovereignty.