Aged 29, this active member of the environment club of the Islamic University of the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon is trying to change the mentality of citizens who are not aware of environmental issues.

The singularity of the confinement will have allowed the experimentation of new practices, among which that of drawing the portrait of a person without even meeting him or her other than through a video call. Mohamad Hashem willingly lends himself to this game. Smiling broadly, this 29 year old Lebanese man easily engages behind his screen, from his room in the family apartment in Tyre, a coastal city in the south of Lebanon. Taking his pain patiently, the computer technician, who has been working at the Islamic University for seven years, takes advantage of his temporary confinement to read his first book: « I’d rather watch a movie than read a book if they both tell the same stories », he specifies in a frank laugh. His first book: Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson.

The hope of taking part in change, especially environmental change, is precisely what guides Mohamad Hachem. For him, activism is not a family heritage but a combination of circumstances. « I will never forget my first trip to Marseilles in 2012 to attend the Sixth World Water Forum. It was also the first time I traveled outside Lebanon », details this adorer of his hometown, Tyre. « I was selected because I was French-speaking but during this forum, I learned a lot of things that I could then use at the environment club of the Islamic University of Tyre. It wasn’t the first time I had heard about waste sorting, but it was the first time I realized how important it was. This event opened my eyes to a lot of things ».

The environment club was born four years ago from a desire shared by several students to participate in environmental actions, including waste sorting, « because it is a big problem in Lebanon », considers the young man who has always abhorred the image of mountains of waste on the beach of Tyre. The club has obtained the support of the Union of Municipalities of Tyre and that of the university and has thus organized several beach clean-ups, but also seminars on various topics related to the environment such as the protection of Tyre beach as a resource for the city or the need to stop the use of plastic bags and migrate to paper bags. « A lot of our seminars also focus on renewable energy, because we have a lot of these resources in Lebanon, so why can’t we benefit from them instead of continuing to use fossil fuels? » asks the former student in information systems management. The club has also initiated the distribution of bins to motivate people to sort their waste at home. With no fixed budget, the club, which has about 35 volunteer members, does receive occasional support.

If bad habits persist, the trend begins to reverse. « At the time, the municipality of Tyre unfortunately did not attach great importance to sorting, but in recent years there has been an improvement », considers the youngest of five boys, « a real basketball team », he describes, amused. He adds: « More and more attention is being paid to this subject, and hopefully, over the years, it will become the norm. For the moment, the municipality is focusing mainly on sorting at home. At my house, it’s difficult for my father, a grocer, and my mother, a housewife, to change their habits because they are old and had never heard of garbage sorting, but I managed to get them to separate plastic and glass from the rest ».

For Mohamad Hachem, the change undoubtedly comes from the individual, « which will then generate a cumulative effect ». As a freelance developer of small software packages for stores, offices and clinics, he is also thinking about ways to reach a wider audience. « The problem is that the seminars we organize at the university are mostly directed to students. But if you want to have an impact, for example on stopping the use of plastic bags, you have to start with store and grocery store managers, because they are the ones that have to be convinced first ». While the Lebanese remain mainly concerned about the financial crisis in which the country is sinking, the young man who is trying since 2013 to finish his research master’s degree to go to France to pursue a PhD or stay teaching in Lebanon, acknowledges that the road will be long but he does not give up: « A journey of a thousand kilometers always starts with a first step ».


Virginie Le Borgne