Have bees found a saviour in a Syr­ian refugee?

Syr­ian aca­demic launches York­shire project tar­geted at help­ing dis­placed peo­ple and long-term job­less

Yorkshire Post - - FRONT PAGE - SARAH FREE­MAN FEA­TURES EDI­TOR Email: sarah.free­man@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @york­shire­post

THE PLIGHT of Bri­tain’s bees has been well-doc­u­mented, but they might just have found a new saviour in the shape of Syr­ian refugee Dr Ryad Al­sous.

Un­til civil war broke out, the aca­demic was qui­etly go­ing about his busi­ness, mon­i­tor­ing 200 hives and car­ry­ing out re­search into the var­i­ous prop­er­ties of honey at Da­m­as­cus Univer­sity.

How­ever, as the vi­o­lence deep­ened Dr Al­sous was forced to flee his home coun­try. He and his wife ar­rived in Hud­der­s­field with few pos­ses­sions, but his love of bees never wa­vered.

Now he has launched the Buzz Project, with the aim of boost­ing York­shire’s bee pop­u­la­tion and giv­ing hope to fel­low refugees.

WHEN DR Ryad Al­sous walks past his bee hives close to the Stand­edge Tun­nel, he sees more than just a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of honey, much more. To him, those 10 wooden hives rep­re­sent hope for the fu­ture and proof that sec­ond chances some­times come in the most un­like­li­est of places.

Back in his home coun­try of Syria, Dr Al­sous was a re­spected aca­demic at the Univer­sity of Da­m­as­cus where stu­dents knew him as the pro­fes­sor of bees. He had spent years re­search­ing the chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of honey and was about to em­bark on an­other ground­break­ing project when civil war broke out in 2011.

“Ev­ery­thing was de­stroyed,” he said. “I had 200 hives but they were just one of the many ca­su­al­ties of the vi­o­lence. The mili­tia be­came in­creas­ingly threat­en­ing. It was ei­ther kill or be killed. I knew I had to leave while my hands were still clean.”

Dr Al­sous’ daugh­ter Razan had al­ready fled the chaos of home. She had ar­rived in Hud­der­s­field with her hus­band and three chil­dren with noth­ing but the con­tents of a small suit­case in 2012 and it was she who en­cour­aged her par­ents to fol­low.

“She told us it was a friendly place and the peo­ple had been good to her. We couldn’t stay in Syria, so my wife and I came here.”

By the time the cou­ple landed in Eng­land, Razan was just set­ting up the York­shire Dama Cheese com­pany, which has since won a host of awards. It wasn’t long be­fore Dr Al­sous was show­ing sim­i­lar re­silience and as his thoughts re­turned to his bees he put a call out on Face­book.

“I tried to see if any bee­keep­ers here had any work go­ing. Some needed labour, but they thought I was overqual­i­fied. I was think­ing I might have to try an­other route when a lady from Manch­ester got in touch and of­fered me one of her hives. Next I built an­other two out of re­cy­cled wood and split the swarm.

“Bees are good for the soul and I knew that other peo­ple could ben­e­fit too.”

Ap­proach­ing the Canal and River Trust, which agreed to give him a plot of land close to the Stand­edge Tun­nel vis­i­tor cen­tre, Dr Al­sous yes­ter­day launched the Buzz Project aimed at help­ing his fel­low refugees and the longterm un­em­ployed find a sense of pur­pose through bee-keep­ing.

The 64-year-old said: “I know how hard it can be when you are dis­placed. You carry with you an emo­tional ten­sions and the ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries of what went be­fore can make you feel iso­lated.

“I also know that many in this sit­u­a­tion have had high-level ca­reers and so have an enor­mous amount to of­fer and con­trib­ute.

“I hope that the Buzz Project can be that first step.

“Look­ing af­ter bees is a real skill, but it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity which I hope will get the vol­un­teers back into the com­mu­nity.”

The project, which is be­ing man­aged by Sanc­tu­ary Kirklees, should also re­sult in a de­cent sup­ply of honey and an un­ri­valled re­source of royal jelly. “Peo­ple are amazed when I tell them that 90 per cent of the honey which is sold in su­per­mar­kets comes from the US, China or Spain.

“I think we can do bet­ter than that,” he said.

While it is early days for the Buzz Project, Dr Al­sous also hopes to con­tinue his aca­demic re­search at Hud­der­s­field Univer­sity.

He adds: “Help­ing the bees of Bri­tain will be my way of say­ing thank you to a coun­try which has given my fam­ily so much.”

Help­ing the bees of Bri­tain will be my way of say­ing thank you. Syr­ian refugee Dr Ryad Al­sous, who has founded the Buzz Project.

PIC­TURES: TONY JOHN­SON.

Dr Ryad Al­sous hopes the Buzz Project near Stand­edge Tun­nel vis­i­tor cen­tre can be a ‘first step’ to help vol­un­teers get back into the com­mu­nity. BEE IN­SPIRED:

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