BEIRUT: Lama Salam, wife of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, launched an initiative Monday through which the Grand Serail will be used as a space to highlight social issues ranging from public health to the environment.
Salam will hold a discussion or event every Wednesday for the next several weeks as part of the program, called A Date at the Serail, which she hopes will make Lebanese feel more welcome in the imposing urban palace.
“We were talking with family and friends about what we could do here at the Grand Serail,” Salam told The Daily Star. “We wanted the Grand Serail to become a platform for people ... so that Lebanese could feel like they had access to the palace.”
Over the coming weeks, the heavily fortified Ottoman-era building will see a series of conferences and round-table discussions on a variety of topics selected by Salam herself.
This Wednesday, for example, experts will brainstorm ways to better integrate special needs children into Lebanese society. The following week, on April 23, participants will discuss ways to economically empower women.
In subsequent conferences, guests will be invited to the Serail to honor health workers, consider the rights of the elderly and examine ways to galvanize environmentalism among the younger generation in Lebanon.
But the launch of the program Monday had a decidedly lighter tone. “We wanted to start with children, with orphans. But instead of doing a round table or a seated dinner, we decided to do something that would bring the kids joy.”
Indeed, sheer delight filled the Serail Monday afternoon, as nearly 200 orphans enjoyed a carnival thrown by Salam.
After passing through the metal detector, the children ran into the courtyard where clowns, an inflated bouncy castle and games waited.
Salam and a handful of her well-heeled friends spoke with the children, enjoying popcorn and cotton candy together.
“Shway shway!” Salam instructed, as the youngsters crowded around a dart-throwing stand.
While she admitted that a carnival would do little to solve the suffering of orphans throughout Lebanon, she said the day wasn’t about policies or problem solving.
“It’s just an initiative to show that I hear them,” she said. “And I stand with them.”