Programs Aim to Foster Peace by Integrating Cultures and Faiths in Lebanon

European Development Days Engage Young People to Prevent Extremism through Cultural and Interfaith Dialogue

September 16th, 2016
Martina Hanáková, CD News

European Development Days in Brussels organized a panel on ‘Promoting Young People as Peacebuilders’ in June 2016. It aims to raise awareness of projects which are trying to use culture to engage young people against extremism. The projects ‘Better Together’ and ‘The Feast in Lebanon’ bring young people together against extremism, creating a common goal of building resilience in societies against radical ideologies.

‘Better Together’ is an EU-funded programme whose main goal is to create social coherence between Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian youths. It consists of 320 young people in North Beqaa and South Lebanon and lasts for a whole year. So far, it has been held twice.

Participants cooperate on projects in the fields of theater, music, video-making, drawing and storytelling. They share their future goals and past experiences during a six-day trip together. Then they attended a six-month leadership programme led by artists to produce a theatre play, write lyrics, shoot a documentary and write a drawing book. The process itself involves building trust and empowerment.

Participants arrive as strangers and leave as friends. Elisa Dari, Director for Lebanon at Search for Common Ground, describes how, “they realize that although they may look different or sound different, they very much have a lot in common as youth – they have the same frustrations, the same challenges, and when they come together they can achieve much more than when they are divided”.

The key is to be able to interact with their peers and become role models for others. They then return to their communities and do the same with their peers or younger generations. Some of the refugees are already running improvisation theater sessions with children in their camps.

The vision described by Dari is to receive long-term funding to work with a whole generation. They will start working with participants when they are five or six years old, and continue when they are teenagers and young adults. In this is way, systemic change can be achieved. Projects which engage youth and provide a space for them to influence their situation in their societies will significantly help to prevent the radicalization of communities. Moreover, it will provide an alternative to the attractiveness of extremist groups.

‘The Feast’ is an interfaith project run by World Vision Lebanon, the Institute for Middle East Studies and Lebanon Youth for Christ. It is a platform for connecting young people from four faiths: Muslim Sunni, Muslim Shiite, Christian Maronite and Evangelical. It runs team-building projects to lay the foundations for religious tolerance.

The programme started two years ago and the young people gather twice per month to discuss their religions and tell their confessions. The feast is attended by four groups, each of which has a different religious background.

According to one representative of the programme, it was difficult to understand each other in the beginning. However, with team building meetings and activities, they were able to engage with each other and gained trust in order to share their experiences, be transparent and learn about each other. In Lebanon, young people are looking forward to further similar initiatives which help them feel more comfortable and protect themselves.

It is extremely important to gather young people from different religious and cultural backgrounds and both initiatives hope to extend their activities in the future and make them more sustainable and more widely known.


Cultural Diplomacy News