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Pontifical Mission at 50: Teaming Up in Lebanon

Environmental concerns make a significant impact on the Pontifical Mission’s village revitalization program in Lebanon.

by Marilyn Raschka

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In the village of Merkebta, in northern Lebanon, everyone is on the project committee – or so it seems. The latest and greatest project completed, a sewage treatment plant, is the only one in the region and now the highlight of the village tour.

Before heading to the project area, the villagers happily show visitors their photo albums. They thumb through the neatly arranged pages, catching glimpses of Christmas feasts, birthdays, first communions – all those dressy days that qualify as Kodak moments.

The men in the pictures are teachers, shopkeepers and accountants. Their wives are educated too. And the children good posture might well result from toting book-laden backpacks up and down the steep village streets.

But here is the page they have been waiting for – these pictures show men at work. Are these the same men? Those gathered around the album laugh as visitors squint in confusion over the vaguely familiar faces.

But to be sure, they are the same men. Clad in shorts, jeans, T-shirts and straw hats, the men smile for the camera as they shovel dirt to fill in the trenches. These are trenches that house 7,218 feet of pipe leading from house to street, then off to the sewage treatment plant.

Merkebta is one of 121 villages in Lebanon benefiting from a successful village revitalization effort, a program spearheaded by CNEWA Pontifical Mission office in Beirut, a program that restores village life devastated during Lebanon 15-year civil war (1975-90).

Everyone from the village pitched in to help with the project. There were no “sidewalk superintendents” during this project, except for Abu Karim, whose venerable face and age earned him that right and title. In some pictures children are featured; they toss good-sized rocks around the pipes to act as filler.

If there were time, the committee members explain, they would show the homemade video of the treatment plant installation. But now it time to visit the site.

Visitors seem to take small, cautious breaths as they approach the bright white building, but quickly it becomes clear the plant works – there is no offensive odor in the area.

A first reaction and comment is that the facility is very small. “Very efficient,” is the villager response. The system, which is brand new, combines standard elements with some original additions.

One committee member explains that the sewage is aerated without ever seeing the light of day. The process works through a system of air compressors, aerators, screen filters and thousands of small, hollow plastic balls that collectively act as a biological filter. This filter produces a high level of sewage purification. The balls are kept on the move by their buoyancy and the aerator. The image that came to mind while listening to this description was of a hot air popcorn popper.

Taking a deep, clean breath, the enthusiastic tour guide continues about hydrostatic pressure, which sends the sewage back to the bottom through the biological filter. He impresses everyone with the fact that one round trip for the entire tank of influent takes about two minutes.

Arabic terms for microbial biomes, sedimentation tanks and such flew through his speech just about as fast as those little balls. Enthusiasm was the verbal equivalent of hydrostatic pressure.

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Tags: Lebanon Village life Revival/restoration