Majdel Anjar burns down taboos as Lebanese-Syrian youth dialogue freely

Jean HatemⒸ UNDP 2015

A fire crackled in the center of Majdel Anjar’s Nadi Al-Houdoud playground, projecting long flares of hope among the surrounding crowd of Lebanese-Syrians residents.

With the support of the UNDP “Peace Building in Lebanon” project, in partnership with “Beyond Reform and Development — BRD” funded by UK Department for International Development — DFID, the Majdel Anjar Socio-Cultural and Socio-Economic committees celebrated their launch of activities through a series of events on the 1st, 2ndand 3rd of September 2015. The events that were prepared by Lebanese and Syrian committee members, targeted different audiences throughout three days: 1st through the economic competition, then the day full of activities for Lebanese and Syrian children and lastly an open dialogue for Syrian and Lebanese youth.

These committees, part of the Mechanisms for Social Stability (MSS), were established by local leaders and actors, under the supervision of the municipality, and as a result f a long process of support offered by UNDP in order to address the existing challenges and conflicts as well as those caused by the impact of the Syrian crisis on host communities, . They decided to establish a human rights and conflict monitor in addition to a socio-economic incubator, these two main activities are coordinated by respectively a joint Lebanese-Syrian socio-cultural committee and a socio-economic committee.

“No one chooses his skin color, origins, or his place of birth. We are all humans, let’s unite our forces for peace;” expressed a short writing on the wall of the playground.

The strong belief of the committees and residents in this say encouraged around 450 participants from Majdel Anjar town and the surroundings to participate in a joint Lebanese-Syrian open discussion which was followed by a campfire, closing the three days festivities.

A young marching scout band launched the evening, right before Mr. Oussama Abdel Ghani Abdel Wahed, the facilitator from the Socio-Cultural committee, voiced his speech and raised many intriguing topics like problems in education, health, accommodation, economy and social stereotyping — that were later discussed by participants throughout the open dialogue.

A first-timer; this discussion gave the chance to many Lebanese and Syrians who are sharing the same town, the same schools and same living conditions, to express their concerns and thoughts openly and in a frank way.. Everyone who attended the dialogue got to hear the “other” side of the story, which created a culture of tolerance and acceptance among the inhabitants of Majdel Anjar. They even recommended and urged the committee to host similar dialogues every month — a recommendation that gives credibility to the committees after months of preparations.

“We didn’t expect a small country like Lebanon to be able to host and accommodate us. We thank the Lebanese for opening their safe doors to us, while many others didn’t.” said Miss. Wi’am Ghabbach, a Syrian resident in Chtaura as she took part in the public conversation.

On another hand Mrs. Halimeh Al-Khatib, a Lebanese member in the Socio-Cultural committee explained that “we always have the choice to see the cup half-full or half-empty: Syria is a much bigger country, and our capacity to host the huge number of displaced is decreasing every day. Yet, we look at the situation from a humanitarian perspective and we don’t let it affect our relationship with the Syrians.”

The youth inside Majdel Anjar showed refusal towards stereotyping their Syrian guests and are trying to change it. Ranine Al-Ajami, 12 year old Lebanese student from Majdel Anjar explains “I find it unacceptable to undermine Syrians. I see this all the time in school, but I was raised to accept others, and I will help spread that.”

A traditional Lebanese Zaffeh group joined by local scouts danced around the fire to the tunes of old Lebanese music announcing dinnertime and ending the open discussion. As the Saj Mana’eech started cooking live, young volunteers ran around the playground to distribute dinner to the big crowd that suddenly turned into small mixed chat-groups. Lebanese and Syrians spent the night, enjoying dinner and talking freely about their daily lives in and around Majdel Anjar, which reflected the positive impact the dialogue had.

While the third day was a great chance for the committees to advocate for their work and explain to the residents more about their “human rights and conflict monitor” and its importance to the town in reporting violations and creating a reference to the people, the first two days also succeeded on different levels.

On the previous day; the Socio-Cultural committee with the support of young local volunteers gathered around 650 Lebanese and Syrian children from the area. The children played together and chanted in the presence of their parents who witnessed for the first time such an expressive common activity that joined a new peace building generation.

The Socio-Economic committee on the other hand, launched an economic competition targeting the resident youth of the town on the first day of the festivities. The trained members advised them to come up with creative business ideas in order to get funding and move their local economy. The committee was able to gather their fellow Socio-Cultural committee members, Mukhtars, Mayors, UNDP, MOSA, and NGO representatives and participants from Saadnayel and other neighboring villages. As the three-day celebration came to an end, the fire lit a new spark of dialogue among Lebanese and Syrian youth.

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