BEIRUT: The fourth annual civic and volunteering fair organized by the American University of Beirut attracted dozens of NGOs and enthusiastic students Wednesday to partner in developing a stronger spirit of volunteering and community service in the country.
Lined up in rows from AUB’s West Hall to Bliss Hall, representatives of NGOs were displaying their work and willingness to engage with students in various fields.
The event has garnered support on and off the AUB campus, especially following the 2008 establishment of the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, which seeks to promote a culture of service and civic excellence in the AUB community.
This year’s fair at AUB focused on the themes of green initiatives in power-generating, recycling, reusing resources and sustainability, as well as some of the challenges that consecutive Lebanese governments have failed to address effectively in the past decade.
In an opening ceremony at West Hall, CCECS director Mounir Mabsout, dean of student affairs Talal Nizameddin and AUB Provost Ahmad Dallal praised civic engagement among AUB students.
Former Interior Minister and civil society activist Ziyad Baroud gave a keynote speech, calling on students to be active members of society.
“There was a time when politics used to flourish at the level of academia, but today campuses have sometimes become a reflection of the political class, and it is unfortunate that the political class has gained great influence over academia,” said Baroud.
“But I still believe that the so-called intelligentsia can still impact Lebanese politics and politicians.”
Baroud, who served as interior minister from 2008 to 2011, said social media has significantly changed the way people participate in civic engagement in recent years.
According to Baroud, crowdsourcing – or outsourcing activities to a network of people, both on and offline – as encouraged by AUB and NGOs in community service demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.
“AUB, by creating this center [CCECS], has been sending a strong message of commitment that the university is in the heart of our society, it understands and feels its needs and it also has a vision through professors’ and students’ aspirations,” said Baroud.
“Crowdsourcing offers solutions to the low voter turnout in elections and improves civic engagement,” he added.