Earth Day Inspiration: How One Woman’s Backyard Became Fertile Ground for Eco-Heroism

by Ted Burnham

The environmental movement has been using the phrase “think globally, act locally” for decades – and this Earth Day with the coronavirus keeping so many of us at home, that slogan rings truer than ever. What could be more local than your own backyard?

Of course, a hyperlocal focus can still feel frustrating when the threats of climate change are still being ignored or denied up to the highest levels of government and environmental protections are being tossed aside daily. But your backyard can be fertile ground for the kind of environmental heroism our entire planet needs.

Your backyard can be fertile ground for the kind of environmental heroism our entire planet needs.

Don’t believe us? Then you should meet Zeinab Mokalled, an eco-conscious hero who started literally in the yard behind her house, transformed her community, and became a national and global inspiration.

From the Avanoo archives, here’s Zeinab’s story.

In 1985, Zeinab Mokalled’s village of Arabsalim in southern Lebanon was occupied by Israeli forces. As a consequence, municipal garbage-hauling services ceased, and for years the town’s trash piled up in its streets.

In the mid-1990s, Zeinab went to the province’s governor and petitioned him to do something – anything – to solve the growing trash crisis.

“What do you care?” the governor said. “We’re not Paris.”

Realizing the local government wouldn’t help, Zeinab decided to rally others to her vision of a trash-free Arabsalim. She went to work recruiting, reasoning that her most likely supporters would be women who needed to feel empowered.

First she recruited her friend Khadija Farhat to buy a truck for hauling trash. Then they went door-to-door to convince other women to help them collect and sort trash, starting with their own households. 

Dozens of women volunteered and began collecting trash. They turned Zeinab’s own garden into a sorting area for recycling. When they couldn’t get support from their local government, the volunteers decided to pay for the service themselves. 

Three years into the project, the municipal government provided a few recycling bins and some land, allowing Zeinab to reclaim her garden from the trash. It was the first and last contribution the local government ever made. 

After that, the women of Arabsalim were alone in making the streets a cleaner, safer place. They sorted, cleaned, and recycled glass, paper and plastic. They even found ways to turn trash into compost – a tricky proposition in arid Lebanon. 

The recycling program has been running for over 20 years without government support. 46 active volunteers – all women – contribute about $40 a year to fund the service, so their children can live and play in what is known today as Lebanon’s most ecological town.

Zeinab Mokalled’s organization is called “Nedaa Al-Ard” – Arabic for “Call of the Earth”. What heroic, hyperlocal action are you feeling called to take this Earth Day?

Share your story with us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, or by email at

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