Being Muslim, Lina Hassan washes herself five times a day, always before prayer. These days she collects the water in a bucket, plus the water from her hot water bottle, and uses it to water her garden.
“We live in Melbourne,” she explains, “and we know how the drought affects us and it will affect our children in future.”
Lina was born in Tripoli to a Syrian father and Lebanese mother, and grew up during the Lebanese Civil War. She is now an assessor in Environment Victoria’s GreenTown program, which trained her in doing sustainability assessments of homes and businesses. She says that some people in the Arabic speaking community, especially those who don’t speak much English and the elderly, might know a little about sustainability: perhaps they’ve heard of energy saving light bulbs and water efficient showerheads but they’re reluctant to let a stranger into their house to install them. GreenTown is the perfect opportunity to engage them in sustainability because it allows her to introduce new ideas to them, with friendly home visits.
“It’s good to have someone you know, who you trust, to tell you everything [about sustainable living]”, Lina says.
The people she visits are happy to spend lots of time with her, taking her through the house as they explain how they use energy and water. Lina then recommends ways they can reduce their resource use. Together they drink tea, eat and talk about the environment. She says that the Lebanese community cares deeply about the environment
Recently she had a house guest from Egypt and was shocked to discover he took hour-long showers. Outraged at this waste of water, she was torn between not being rude to a guest and really wanting him to use less water. She decided, in the end, to go for the indirect approach. One night over dinner she told him about GreenTown, and how she and her husband had recently learnt about the environment. Then she mentioned that, unlike Egypt which has the Nile, Australia is a dry country, with not enough water to waste any. Finally, she let slip that in her household they take five minute showers. The next day, the guest had reduced his shower time by half.
In Egypt, Lina says, there is not much concern about water scarcity. Lebanon is different – when she lived there she used to have to carry buckets of water to a second-story apartment. The water would be available for four hours and then cut off for eight, so everyone had to collect and conserve it. They also had to be careful with electricity; in Lebanon there are power shortages. Lina’s noticed that when people arrive in Australia, often they’re excited at the apparent unlimited abundance of water on tap and electricity at the flick of a switch. That’s why she’s so keen to help people understand why we do need to conserve energy and water, to help our environment and also to save on power bills.
Story by Benita Auterinen