BEIRUT: A ceremony to mark the end of a social reconciliation program among Lebanese youth was held at UNESCO Palace Saturday. Youth Building Reconciliation 2 (YBR) was a two-month-long program aimed at encouraging dialogue among students from different backgrounds with team-building exercises and community projects.
The ceremony included a documentary chronicling the work of the YBR team of 14 volunteers who led the program from late April to May. The program, which was held at Beirut Arab University, Saint Joseph University and the town of Damour, was part of Naseej, a community program sponsored by the Ford Foundation and administered by Save the Children US.
The YBR program was the second youth reconciliation program put on by Naseej, and was aimed a easing some of the social tensions that have kept Lebanon in a perpetual cycle of instability.
“This program creates this artificial kind of space through which people revisit a lot of the misconceptions about one other,” said Jean-Paul Chami, a trainer for the program.
The Naseej volunteers traveled to each school with a mobile library and led four days of exercises that confronted participants with their prejudices and misconceptions about one another.
Scenes from the documentary showed veiled students talking about the discrimination they face, while YBR participants railed against the mistreatment of homosexuals and migrant workers.
Lebanon’s internal sectarian and social divides have led to endemic violence and instability ever since the country was conceived. A short program like YBR faces a huge divide, one that cannot be papered over with a few weeks of exercises.
“So one agency, one organization cannot do the whole work obviously,” Chami said. “But we definitely need at some point to have these programs either instilled in the educational system or somehow to get governmental support to get those social discovery trips multiplied and accessible to people around Lebanon and the region.”
In addition to the student exercises, the YBR teams started a recycling center at one of the universities and painted a cafeteria at another, while the mobile library was turned into a permanent library space for dialogue in Damour.
Although it is just a small program that only affected a few people, Chami said reconciliation has to start somewhere and then begin to grow. “I really believe the very small initiatives are the seeds of reconciliation. We should never see reconciliation as an end goal, its a journey. Its has to start initially within us.”