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Making integrated citizens, Happiness Heroes switches gears in 2014
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BEIRUT: This holiday season, children across Lebanon will be ripping apart gift wrap, gorging on buche de noel and devising ways to provide sustainable social development to their region.

Bel Group, the French distributor responsible for cheesy products like Picon, Kiri and Boursin, has focused its annual CSR campaign in Lebanon, “Happiness Heroes,” on supplementing civic education in Lebanese schools. In its fourth year, Bel reimagined the program and gave it the subtitle “Mashrou’ al-Jeel al-Jadid” – meaning “The New Generation Project.” The program aims to push children from different classes, villages and sects to work together on implementing long-term projects that promote development in the country.

“Lebanese children grow up in silos,” Jackie Fares, Bel’s Levant region marketing manager, told The Daily Star. “They stay in their different religion, sect, social class – they live in their own world. The first time they mix is usually in university and it’s a culture shock at such a late age.”

Integrating children, rather than grown adults, will have a long-term positive effect on the country, Fares said. At least, this is Bel’s hope.

For the past three years, Happiness Heroes has been a broad enterprise targeting Lebanese public and private schools. Under the old program, individual schools thought up their own civil engagement project that focused on one of four topics: health, environment, citizenship or solidarity. At the end of each school year, a scholarship was awarded to schools with the most impressive work.

One winning project, for example, was led by a private school where the students devised educational games that focused on health and hygiene. After drawing up the rules of all their games, the school, Antonin in Zghorta, shared it with a subsidized academy.

In spite of collaborative projects like the one by Antonin, organizers at Happiness Heroes noticed they were failing to break down social and sectarian barriers among the participating schools.

“We noticed at the final event – at the end of the year when we gather all of the students – there was no mixing. All the schools kept to themselves and they looked at each other like they were strangers,” Fares said.

Mashrou’ al-Jeel al-Jadid has thus given schools a new and, hopefully, improved task. First, they must devise a project that serves a social good, is environmentally conscious and is sustainable – meaning it can continue to function once put into place.

Fares offered an example of helping farmers plant seeds. The crops grow and produce fruit for years to come, which can be sold to the public and help provide money for those farmers in need.

Bel’s CSR staff have divided the country into four regions – North, South, Bekaa Valley and Greater Beirut – and will choose a winning project from each. The second stage of Happiness Heroes 2014 will see that project realized with a $20,000 grant and combined effort by all participating schools.

Working together on a regional scale, students will have to problem solve and interact with children of vastly different backgrounds, Fares said. In the end, they will also have created four sustainable projects that will serve a long-term social good.

Fares said social welfare projects from children were always astounding.

“We enable them, but the kids come up with their own ideas. For them, anything can be possible,” she said. “These are the happiness heroes.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2013, on page 2.
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