ECODIT President Joseph Karam Speaks at the 2019 Lebanese Diaspora Energy Convention

ECODIT President Joseph Karam presented at a panel on tourism at the Lebanese Diaspora Energy (LDE) North America convention held in Washington, DC during September 20-21,2019. Mr. Karam was speaking in his capacity as the President of the American Friends of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (AFLMT). AFLMT is a non-profit organization that promotes educational programs, environmental protection, natural and cultural heritage conservation, and rural economic development around the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT), Lebanon’s first and longest long-distance hiking trail. The LMT was established by ECODIT with support from USAID from 2006 to 2008.

After showing the 2018 short movie “Hike It, Protect It” produced by the LMT Association (LMTA), Mr. Karam spoke about the amazing values of the trail, particularly its importance in connecting the Lebanese Diaspora with the homeland, saying, “The Lebanon Mountain Trail offers you an opportunity to reconnect with your origins, to discover or rediscover the heart of Lebanon! You will gain experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. And you will want to return again and again, and tell your children, family and friends to go to Lebanon and walk on the LMT!” He invited the audience to consider joining the LMT Thru Walk that takes place each year in April, or the annual Fall Trek in October. LMT events like this bring sustainable job and income opportunities to marginalized mountain regions of Lebanon and encourage local communities to conserve their natural and cultural heritage.

Mr. Karam initially conceived of the idea for a long-distance trail when he returned to his home country Lebanon after the civil war. He was inspired by his time living in America and hiking the Appalachian Trail to establish a similar trail in Lebanon, with the aims of promoting rural tourism, empowering rural communities, rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the war, and promoting healing and reconciliation. He subsequently received funding from USAID to establish the trail and later on the LMT Association (LMTA), a Lebanese NGO that protects, maintains, and promotes the trail. The trail is now lauded as a success story for public diplomacy and a symbol of post-war reconciliation. It attracts more than 25,000 visitors each year and provides livelihoods to guesthouse owners, tour guides, and other entrepreneurs in the 76 villages and towns along the trail.

During the convention, the AFLMT exhibited LMT materials, including pins, flyers, magazines, and books at a dedicated booth manned by Mr. Karam and the Ambassador of the LMT in Canada, Ms. Wafaa El-Osta. Convention participants dropped by the booth and inquired about the AFLMT’s programs and activities, including Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, who spoke about the positive ripple effects of the LMT, including the beautiful trails and guesthouses that are coming to light in his own home province of Batroun. Mr. Karam’s participation in the LDE North America conference reinforces Lebanon President Michel Aoun’s embrace of the LMT last March as a national trail for the Lebanese people and Lebanon.

ECODIT continues to be an avid supporter of the LMT. In addition to its support to the AFLMT, the firm has provided thousands of hours of pro-bono expert advice and technical support to the LMTA, including for coaching and mentoring of LMTA staff; assisting with networking efforts at national, regional and international levels; and providing technical assistance to proposal writing and events organizing.