Decades-old archeological sites have long been neglected in cities across Lebanon. The historic city of Baalbek is one prominent example. Local NGO Lebanese Association for Coexistence and Development (LACD) has taken note of the neglect and is setting out to change this reality.
LACD was founded in 2014 by Hussein Hassan, Mohamad Solh, and Michel Ghossein — three activists who call Baalbek their home. Since then, the foundation has launched projects aimed at promoting hope and coexistence in the city.
One of the most recent ones saw the group completely restore and renovate a neglected site known as "Moghr el Taheen."
Speaking to StepFeed, Hassan told us more about the recent project and what it means for the city.
On the launch of the LACD
The NGO behind the impressive restoration project is an apolitical and areligious organization that aims at sending out a message of hope to all citizens of Baalbek.
They plan and carry out "projects and activities that instill the feeling of belonging to Lebanon and that emphasizes the importance of co-existence between the different sects of the city," Hassan, one of the co-founders, told us. A few of the projects they've overseen over the past few years include the construction of Saint Mary Square at the entrance of Baalbeck, Nation Square in Jdita/Chtaura, and the inaugurating of an "I Love Baalbek" statue at the entrance of the city. The group also helped create a graffiti wall featuring legendary Lebanese musicians and artists Fairouz, Sabah, and Wadih El Safi.
LACD has established partnerships as well, including ones with the Lebanese Food Bank and the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections.
On the restoration of Moghr El Taheen
"This site is 5000 years old. It is very well known by the older generation since they used to be amazed by its charm; however, starting the 70s, due to civil war and its consequences, houses were built illegally in proximity of this site and channeled their sewage and garbage to the caves. Until last winter, the site has nothing to do with the old pictures of it. It used to be full of rodents, infestation all over the place, and smell was unbearable," Hassan explained.
LACD secured funding for the huge project from the UN Habitat via the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, and managed to get support from the Municipality of Baalbek. No matter the obstacles in the way, the founders were adamant about completing the project and hope to work on restoring other neglected sights in Baalbek.
"In Baalbeck, in particular, we have many neglected sites that are as important as Moghr El Taheen. If rehabilitated, tourism will be boosted and income of the citizens will thus be improved due to resulting opportunities," Mohamad Solh, a co-founder of the NGO, told us.
The main challenge that faces such restoration projects is the lack of funding and the fact that not so many people are aware of how important such historic sites are.
"To convince the people of the neighborhood about the importance of the project was the main challenge. The neighborhood of the moghr is very poor and local residents lost faith in any developmental projects due to previous bad experiences," Hassan said.
He also stressed that finishing restoration work on time is another huge challenge that can face similar projects. This is because not meeting deadlines negatively affect relationships with donors who are funding and collaborating on similar work.
The completely restored Moghr El Taheen site is now fully open to tourists.
"Baalbeck is not anymore about the temples. Moghr El Taheen is now part of the touristic map of the city. Due to the social media and traditional media outreach, many foreigners know about it and started visiting it," Hassan explained.
According to Michel Ghossein, another co-founder of LACD, people should "take initiatives and stop blaming the government."
"Our slogan in the NGO: It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness," Ghossein added.
As for Hassan, he believes inviting the youth in Baalbek to remain hopeful and not give up on their city is important. "We invite the youth in Baalbeck [...] to establish NGOs and be the change they want to see in the city."