Aida Camp which covers a small area of 0.71 square kilometers is home to more than 5000 Palestinian refugees. As Aida’s population continues to grow, the physical size of the camp remains constant and it is now enclosed on two sides by the Israeli Apartheid Wall. Aida’s residents face many problems today including regular invasions by the Israeli occupation forces, severe water shortages, overcrowding, and lack of green open spaces. Therefore, since its establishment in 2001, Lajee Center has worked towards safeguarding the lives and rights of Palestinian refugees including those related to the environment.
From 2012, Lajee Center has started working on various environmental projects and worked towards establishing a specialized unit within the center that works exclusively on environmental rights including water issues, agriculture and developing gardens and green spaces for Aida Camp's residents. The environment project at Lajee Center was established to help preserve the ties to the land and retrieve Palestinian historical connections to agriculture, while at the same time increasing Palestinians' control over their food sources, especially organic vegetables. So far Lajee Center has been able to successfully build more than eight rooftop gardens in the camp in addition to the first park and playground for the camp's residents.
Between October 2015 and February 2016, Lajee Environment Unit was successfully able to build four new rooftop gardens in Aida Camp. The new rooftop gardens will help four large families from Aida Camp sustain their livelihoods and health through independent food production. The new rooftop gardens were built thanks to fruitful partnership with 'Al-Awda: the Palestine Right to Return Coalition'. Each family of those targeted by the project was provided with plants, soil, trees, flowers, seeds, fertilizers, and containers to create the rooftop gardens. Young volunteers and local youths, who have been an integral part of the Environment Unit at Lajee Center since the beginning, helped the families plant the seeds and trees.
Lara Jawabreh, 17 years old, from the town of Doha and a member of Lajee's Environment Unit said about the new rooftop gardens: “I am happy that I helped in planting new rooftop gardens for several families in Aida Camp… These new gardens will provide people with organic fruit and vegetables and give them green space to enjoy. Together with other project participants, we went to four families and helped them plant mint, onions, lettuce, radishes, and sage. In a few weeks we will plant small trees and more seeds in the gardens."
Salim, a resident of Aida Camp and one of the beneficiaries of the project, had this to say about his new rooftop garden: "I never thought I could actually have a nice place on the roof of my house where I can grow vegetables and fruits. The children and youth from Lajee Center came to my house and helped plant the garden for the first time. I also want to add more trees and vegetables to what I received through the project. I used to grow herbs such as mint and sage in pots on the windows of my house but never vegetables and fruits. I want to have real trees such as orange and lemon trees on the roof of my house…"
Lajee Center's environment unit and staff would like to thank project volunteers for their passionate participation in the project, camp's residents for their trust and collaboration, and 'Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition' for their generous support. We hope that in 2016 we will be able to build new gardens to help more families in Aida Refugee Camp and safeguard the environmental rights of its citizens.