Yasmina Hatem

Life the natural way

Liza and Joey in their garden
Liza celebrating with Senegalese permaculture students
Seedlings of a Gardens Without Borders food forest
Seeds of change

“The problem of the world today is that we don’t eat right. Food doesn’t have any more taste, comes from far away, is full of chemicals, and its production is destroying our planet. And so we started asking ourselves these questions: How can we become independent from this destructive system, which is ingrained in so many ways (economical, ecological, social, cultural and spiritual) and that makes us feel like we don’t have a choice? How do we get out of this system and live a simple life, produce our own food, and rebuild without having negative repercussions on our planet?”


They started off like many other young Lebanese: Liza Charbel and Joey El Khoury moved to Dubai after their studies, to work for a multinational company and made a good living. A very good living. “We made a lot of money and we spent even more,” says Liza. “We had become slaves of a consumer culture, credit, perpetual indebting… And even though we didn’t need anything financially, we felt like something fundamental was missing from our lives.”

And so began their journey into transforming their lives – and working towards transforming the lives of others.


Liza and Joey started being conscious about their way of life, and how it directly affects the planet. “At the end of the day, we don’t need much to live well,” says Liza. “We need a roof over our heads to protect us from the cold, and healthy food to nourish our bodies and souls. But that’s about it!” To answer these questions, they got curious about ways of the world, and discovered permaculture.


Permaculture is a way of living, based on ancient knowledge and indigenous communities. David Holmgren, one of the co-originators of the permaculture concept, explains it as “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber, and energy for provision of local needs.”


Liza decided to study permaculture, and obtained a certificate. Meanwhile, Joey went to Mali in February 2011, to work on an agriculture project in Kamaka, a small fishing village. He stayed there for three months, and came back transformed.  “There is a huge gap between the way of life in the West, and that in developing countries. In the West, we consume without limits, and without worrying about its impact on our health and our planet. In developing countries, they suffer because Western habits consume and pollute their resources. The result is: deforestation, desertification, and food waste in these communities.”


The desire to ameliorate their way of life, and help others ameliorate theirs, gave birth to Gardens Without Borders. It is a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose mission is to plant food forests, where trees, vegetation, medicinal plants, flowers, herbs and animals grow together in harmony, according to the principles of permaculture. The goal is to help communities in general, and disadvantaged communities especially, to become self-sufficient in terms of food, and economically viable in order to protect their environment.


So what does that mean exactly, concretely? Gardens Without Borders had their first project in Senegal this year, from February to May 2013. They co-developed a market garden (a relatively small-scale production) with a group of villagers from Baback-Serere. “We taught women, and then some men and children, how to use permaculture techniques: today, more than 20 different varieties of vegetables and fruits are growing in this garden, thanks to the daily work of these Baback women.” This project was financed by a Canadian organization called CREDIL, among others.


Gardens Without Borders’ objective is to create food forests in rural communities in Lebanon, implement and develop permaculture in Lebanon, through workshops, experiments and formations. They are currently looking for funding and are hoping to start their work in Lebanon in 2014. But they have already started to pave the way: Liza and Joey have given introductory permaculture workshops in Beirut. They’ve also purchased land in Niha, Batroun, which they plan to develop according to permaculture principles: natural constructions and renewable energies. Their ultimate dream is to build their own house there, and become 100% self-sufficient in terms of food and energy. “I want us to build our house with our own two hands,” says Liza. As for Joey, he explains he wants to become “a farmer in Niha, 2020 version.” They hope to capture the sun to light their home, warm themselves from compost heat and collect rain water. And they want to open up this environment to anyone who would like to learn and exchange experiences: “we want it to become a place where people meet and take a little journey with us.”


“For me,” continues Joey, “going back to Niha is also rediscovering a lost Lebanese culture. I want to go back to the source, revalorize our traditions and culture, in the way we cultivate our land, grow our food, build our homes… and be able to pass it down to future generations. We can also show foreigners a different kind of Lebanon – not just Skybar. Like Gibran said ‘I have my Lebanon, and you have yours.’”


To learn more about their work, you can check out their Facebook page.


Read this article in Arabic

Liza and Joey in their garden. (Image via Gardens Without Borders)

“I want to go back to the source, revalorize our traditions and culture, in the way we cultivate our land, grow our food, build our homes… and be able to pass it down to future generations.”

  • joeyelkhoury

    (cont.).....and we need to learn it ourselves so that we can than pass it on to future generations because at this rate...we and future generations are doomed. We are and will continue to simply be robots to the dominant western culture....we will end up with a monoculture world, and so our salvation I bel;eive lies in diversity....which is a main characteristics of Lebanon...but which today is being twisted by the dirty political class we have been living with all these decades...these monsters.....accomplices of the greed, egocentric, and money oriented system that has created them. While we can try fighting this system head on, I prefer to look for inspiration through this quote: "“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― Richard Buckminster Fuller ...this is what I love about permaculture. It simply looks to re-creating a system based on millennial indigenous values and ways of living, but adapted to our time. We don't need the current system to build the new one. Let's build the new one....so that one day the old system finds itself alone, isolated, and with no more reasons to exist. It will vanish by itself, not knowing how this came to happen...... As they say in Senegal: "We are together" :-)

    June 15, 2013

  • joeyelkhoury

    Hi Phil and Hanibbal! Thank you very much for having taken the time to read the article, and even more so for having commented on it. It is very much appreciated! If you would allow me to add my perspective on what you have mentioned.....thanks for taking the time to read this relatively long comment :-) Yes, there was the social uprising in the 60's and 70's...very similar to what we have been seeing around the world in the last couple of years....yes, back in the 60's and 70's the dominant mainstream system ridiculed the social discontents that were happening by stereotyping it as just a bunch of "hippies"....I'm still not sure how they see this definition as negative, after all what they like to call "hippies" are peace loving human beings that have much more respect for "life" than the white collar suit and tie criminals that have been going unchecked for decades now....... Now did the "hippie" movement last long or not? Well, I think to answer this we have to look at the "values" that the hippies propose: Love, peace, respect, harmony, solidarity, spirituality....and in my view, these values are more than ever doing very well in our era...eventhough destruction, war, injustice, hatred, fanaticism are also doing even better than ever before....this is our era, era of extremes...and so more than ever, you have a worldwide movement for extreme love, peace, respect and harmony....this is permaculture, and not only that....so much positive happening around the world....you just have to open your eyes, search for the right information that you won't find in mainstream news....simply travel and connect with people, and you will see that the "hippie" values have never been doing soo good! :-)....and I think this is a fundamental thing for humanity, especially in the face again of ever more destruction. The more evil there will be, the more "hippies" there will be, and needs to be, in order to counter that same evil and destruction.....

    June 15, 2013

  • joeyelkhoury

    ....(cont. from last comment) What is even greater now is that the "hippie" movement of the 60's and 70's were like prophets in a way, they already understood and could see what was wrong with the dominant US capitalist system.....yet there wasn't enough "proofs" (If i may call them like that) that could back up the "hippie" point of view....industrialization was at its booming stage, and so the people who could not see further from their nose simply dismissed the "hippie" point of view by ridiculing it, stereotyping "hippies" as primitive drug loving good for nothing people....and it worked, for a while.....today, things are different. Our generation has the luxury to look back at the last 40-50 years since the 60's and 70's..,...and truly see all the damage that the mainstream dominant capitalist globalized system has done at all levels. Ecological, economical, social and cultural.....and so now more than ever, the "hippie" values and points of views are of actuality, needed more than ever and this is why that vs the 60's and 70's....the "hippie" philosophy is not just in words, but more than ever you see it being put into actions in very innovative ways! Today's "hippies" are creating today and tomorrow's solutions to all the crisis our world is living.....so again, I would say that the "hippie" movement is now stronger than ever and is the source of solutions that our world needs. Again, it all depends on how wants to understand the word "hippie" ;-) Hanibaal, like you said my friend....it is time to revalorize and rediscover our Lebanese heritage....that has been hijacked and kidnapped for too long by western culture. We have to know who we are in order to move forward in the right direction. I love your example of falafel....because we have to bring out the best of our culture at all levels: food, constructions, nature, artisan production, community......all the answers to our problems are within our culture, our history, our heritage....and we need to learn

    June 15, 2013

  • Phil؟

    The same movement rose in the late 60's and early 70's in the states. People were called hippies. But it didn't last long, now did it? : )

    May 29, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    People like Joey and Liza should be given a medal for this much-needed pioneering work in Lebanon. They should open a school also and start teaching the younger generation to turn Lebanese society away from trashy consumerism and the me-monkey-imitate-the-West syndrome that has become the hallmark of Lebanese culture. Just a tiny example: It has become much more difficult to buy a falafel sandwich in Lebanon than a filthy hamburger. Why? because the hamburger is "American", hence trendier, while falafel is streety poor people food in the sad mentality of the Lebanese. Meanwhile, though, we somehow need to get rid of the religious neanderthals, the gangs, the militias, the "resistance" movements, the feudal politicians, the corrupt bureaucrats... Otherwise, lofty aspirations like Jeoy's adn Liza's will remain their own.

    May 20, 2013