A thing for trees

Abdulmouin’s story

Lina Alqassab and Yasmine Saker
a teenager sitting between plants
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Alqassab
01 March 2020

Syria, Homs, 24 February 2020 - When he was only three years old, Abdulmouin would spend his days talking to his family’s houseplants. Now, at 15, his love for nature has grown so much that he’s always preoccupied with finding ways to restore forests around his hometown, Homs.

Back in 2012, as violence escalated near their home on the outskirts of Homs, Abdulmouin and his family were forced to flee to Al-Waer, only a few months before it fell under siege. It was then that Abdulmouin dropped out of school, having completed only Grade 2 and learned to read and write.  Living with congenital skeletal deformations, Abdulmouin’s parents were afraid that he would fall and injure himself and opted to help him study at home. It was also then that a seven-year-old Abdulmouin started planting trees, teaching himself over countless attempts.

plants
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Alqassab

"Food was in short supply, so I would buy vegetable seeds and seedlings and grow them for us to eat"

Abdulmouin, 15

“Food was in short supply, so I would buy vegetable seeds and seedlings and grow them for us to eat,” he recalls. “I would produce tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, parsley and eggplants and exchange products with neighbours,” explains Abdulmouin who found a distraction from violence, displacement and disability in growing products.

Following a respite in violence across the city of Homs, Abdulmouin’s family moved again, this time to the neighbourhood of Ghouta. While the lack of open spaces to plant troubled him, Abdulmouin decided to turn the small balcony of their house into a green sanctuary. He would spend his days experimenting with new kinds of flora and researching planting solutions online.

“Young people like me should pay attention to the environment and do their part to fight the pollution we live in”

Abdulmouin,15
a boy looking at plants
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Alqassab

“The city of Homs has lost much of its green cover due to fires caused by drought and fighting, and tree cutting for firewood,” says Abdulmouin who decided to take matters into his own hands. He started identifying and reaching out to local agricultural experts to suggest locations for foresting around the city and advocate for urgent action.

“They are always surprised when they find out my age,” says Abdulmouin. “Young people like me should pay attention to the environment and do their part to fight the pollution we live in,” he adds.

After years of displacement, inflation and depletion of financial resources, Abdumouin’s parents became increasingly unable to meet their children’s basic needs. So, when they heard of the UNICEF-supported cash transfer programme back in December, they immediately signed up.

The programme provides families of children with disability with monthly cash assistance to help them cover the costs of providing their children’s special needs.

a boy in the middle of house plants
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Alqassab

“We use the assistance to secure Abdulmouin’s basic needs, but he also saves a portion to buy seeds and planting tools,” says his mother, glancing proudly at her son.

Thanks to a generous contribution from Japan, Abdulmouin and 2,000 children with disability across the governorate of Homs are receiving assistance.

“When I grow a plant and see it flourish, it gives me hope,” says Abdulmouin with a big smile.  Abdulmouin aspires to open his own greenhouse business in the future, inspired by his fondness for plants.