14.11.11 source: Palestine News Network (PNN)

The Auja Environmental Center (AEC) was officially opened in October 2010, and although only in operation for one year it has already received recognition from the local and international community for its work. Located north of Jericho, the AEC is one of three ‘ecoparks’ established by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) across Palestine, Jordan and Israel.

Promoting environmental awareness, the Centre teaches visitors about the geology, flora, fauna, water resources and cultural heritage of Wadi Auja and the Jordan Valley as a whole. There is a permaculture garden, grey water recycling facility, and a children’s playground on site, along with a number of educational installations and stations. School groups have visited the Center to learn about their local environment, and important environmental issues like water use, waste management, and climate change.

In addition, the local community has been able to learn about grey water recycling and the AEC has helped to establish more than 25 grey water recycling facilities in homes and schools surrounding Auja. In a region struggling for access to water, these projects have made a significant impact.

The AEC itself aims to be a model of sustainability, using recycled materials and sustainable building techniques in much of its construction. Over 2500 used tires have been used to create the educational installations, and staff are also perfecting the art of mud building to use in further developments at the site. The Centre has provided unique educational and employment opportunities for the local community, and has become a hub for children to gather and play.

The AEC is just one part of FOEME’s broader work, focussed on promoting cooperative efforts across the region to protect the environment. Much of FOEME’s work is focused on addressing water issues, and it has partnered with 28 communities across Palestine, Jordan and Israel in order to develop cooperative strategies for sustainable water management.

FOEME’s work has been widely praised, and in October it was awarded the 2011 Mount Zion Award. The award recognizes the achievements of organizations that have made an outstanding contribution in enhancing dialogue between different cultures in the Holy Land. Following on from this award, the Association for Conflict Resolution recognized FOEME with its Outstanding Leadership Award 2011, which honors exceptional work promoting conflict resolution in development projects.

The AEC has brought hope and encouragement to the local community, transforming a barren plot into a flourishing hub of community life in only a short time. Currently, plans are underway at the AEC to develop a hostel and restaurant on site to encourage international visitors and promote ecotourism in the region. To this end, staff are also working to develop hiking trails that will allow visitors to experience the Jordan Valley for themselves. This is only the beginning for the AEC, and it seems that there are no limits to what the future may hold.