LEBANON: Youth groups work to bring society together without discrimination

Vanessa Bassil – WNN Opinion

Unite Lebanon Youth Project
Mothers work together on a human rights initiative with the United Lebanon Youth Project 2012, one of many projects involving youth that works today specifically to help remove religious and cultural discrimination among younger children in Lebanon. Many other projects inside the region work with teenagers as well as youth in their 20s. Image: ULYP/Facebook

(WNN/CGN) Beirut: The recent violence between political parties – some of them affiliated with different religious sects – in Tripoli and Beirut has made headlines, and shows the degree to which political conflicts in Lebanon remain a potent social problem. Lebanon is composed of 18 religious communities, and all too often, politicians use religion to keep people divided, and differences between different religious and political interests cause tensions.

Although political solutions are often what come to mind when discussing such issues, national conflicts cannot truly be resolved without knowing how to deal with conflicts on a personal scale first. This is the space that a dynamic group of Lebanese youth is working in, and seeking to change.

The Responsible and Active Youth project (RAY) gathered Lebanese youth from different regions and religions. The project provided a space where they could experiment with how to deal with conflicts while learning how to shift their thinking from seeing conflict as negative and destructive into a force with the potential to be positive and constructive.

Motivated youth have committed to volunteer with RAY for two years to develop a toolkit that contributes to creating the society they dream of: one based on tolerance and acceptance of the “other”. Aiming for a creative, youth-oriented and practical approach, they invented a board game called “Ta’o Nehke” (“Let’s talk”), which trains people to deal with conflict through scenarios and role play.

The youth went to four different communities in Lebanon to implement the project at schools, universities and clubs, working with the Lebanese Association for Education and Training (ALEF), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

The conflicts the game tackles are not political, but personal. Because political conflict is so sensitive, RAY’s approach focuses on personal conflict, which youth can apply to political conflicts later. The groups chose the scenarios that play out in the board game based on their own experiences in romantic relationships, with family dynamics, and in student-teacher conflicts.

Hassan, a Muslim participant, said: “In a sectarian, divided country like Lebanon, joining the RAY project is an action that goes against the norm. When it comes to such experiences . . . we have an obligation to share them with others”.

The so-called Rayans who implemented the project gained a new perspective on conflict through their engagement with their peers: conflict is natural, it should be understood in order to deal with it successfully, and it can be transformed through dialogue and negotiation.

Participants in the game practice this transformation when they arrive at squares labelled “negotiation” where they have to negotiate with another player on another side of the conflict scenario played out in the game. Youth who have participated in this exercise to date noticed how often they failed to take into consideration others’ concerns or to listen to them – and suggested that this was one of the reasons for the current conflicts in their own country. Now, however, they realise that they have the tools to correct this attitude.

For instance, while playing the game, Adriana, a Christian participant, learned to see things from different perspectives because, in each round, she had to articulate other players’ needs and how they were feeling about the conflict that was being addressed in the game. A “tips” square that she landed on helped her learn about others’ positions.

In one game, she played the role of a young male student who changed majors three times during university which led to a conflict with his father who was working abroad to pay his tuition fees. Adriana received a tip revealing that his father felt lonely, was working hard to support his family and felt like his son was taking his help for granted. Understanding his father’s feelings and reasons for opposing his son’s decisions, she concluded that everyone has reasons to think and feel the way he or she does – and so learned to approach the people with whom she is in conflict with empathy.

“Let’s talk” aims to change how players think about conflict, and thus how they deal with it. It is a message that deserves to be heard more widely in order to develop a society that is tolerant and respectful of all its members – regardless of religious or political affiliation.

________________________________

With a post-graduate MA in Information and Communication Science from Lebanese University, in Beirut, journalist and peace activist Vanessa Bassil has a special interest in peace and conflict studies. She aspires to build peace through media. For this goal she researches, practices and works to spread ‘Peace Journalism.’ Her fields of interest are human rights, citizenship, interfaith dialogue and nonviolent civil resistance.

_______________

2012 WNN – Women News Network
WNN encourages conversation. All opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Women News Network – WNN. This op-ed has been brought to you through an ongoing WNN – Women News Network partnership with CGNews. Copyright permission is granted for publication.

____________________