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Crowd-sourced blog tries to cut through sectarian media
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BEIRUT: A video shows a girl sitting and reading a school history textbook, but as she flips through page after page, all are blank. Instead of the typical heavily sanitized government history books on Lebanon, the pages are filled with nothing.

Christine Abi Rached aimed to make this video as a starting point to ask people how they would like to see their country’s history told.

The video is presented on an experimental blog intending to wade through the country’s sectarian media landscape and as part of a larger project to bring divided communities together.

The news and public forum blog “Khabrieh,” launched in a two-day trial over the weekend, serves as a curator of articles, photos and messages for anyone between age 18 and 30 who had something to say.

“Instead of a third party telling us about what’s in the country, why don’t we open a channel to let people tell us about what’s happening,” said Joanna Choukeir Hojeily, a doctoral student who is trying to help cultivate ideas that bring the country’s divided society together.

After going live during a community building project in Jbeil and Baakline in the Chouf, the blog curators posted messages from interested locals and others.

The results were probing and indicative that a portion of the population is dissatisfied with society’s status quo, but are unsure where to go next. “How do we live with Lebanese?” asked one essay. “The Road to Conflict Transformation,” was the title of another.

Some posts asked simple questions about why citizens can’t receive basic services: “We are Lebanese youth from Baakline, and we have a problem with electricity in our village. It only comes 2 hours per day,” read one post.

Other submissions were more reflective. A black and white photo by 19-year-old Jade Ev Nasser shows a man perched on the seashore.

The blog is part of a package of community building projects that a group of volunteers created while working with Hojeily. The projects were presented together during events in Jbeil and Baakline.

Other projects included trilingual karaoke, sectarian role-playing and marriage information games to shed light on the social and legal barriers separating people in the country.

In the areas where the activities were run, visitors could participate in each project that tried to get them to think about pressing topics in the country.

“What we really wanted to do is rather than tell people and deliver sound bites, we wanted to give them little experiences of the bigger picture” Hojeily said. “Helping them reflect on their own situation without telling them what right or wrong was.”

Hojeily hopes her work will serve as a starting point for her volunteers to show that their new ideas can be successful, and the projects will turn into long-term ventures to work toward the main goal “to help young people in Lebanon integrate better along social, religious and demographic divides.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 11, 2012, on page 4.
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