Life in Syria, through a peace lens

This blogpost is part of a series about the Digital Steps program, a collaboration between Build Up and the British Council Syria. Over the past 9 months, Build Up has been working with a group of Syrian artists and innovators who are building peaceful coexistence inside Syria. Their peacetech work is truly inspirational, and you can find out more here.

PeaceLens is a youth-led project that trains Syrian youth on documentary film-making. The team aims to support young Syrians to use film to express peaceful ideas and to rebuild communications between youth from different areas in Syria. Through the Digital Steps program, PeaceLens have developed the concept of ‘Channel 3’, a digital platform for Syrian youth to create, watch and interact with non-violent media content that highlights common ground rather than difference.

‘We need to know more about each other’

The PeaceLens team is committed to bridging the divides that have flourished during the conflict in Syria. They recognise the deepening of stereotypes between communities, and the barrier this has caused to peaceful communications between young people. In workshops across Syria, the PeaceLens team continuously heard this plea ‘we need to know more about each other’.

Out of this need, the concept of Channel 3 was born: an independent, online TV channel that will discuss issues of importance to Syrian youth, provide a connection between young people and grant them a digital space away from war. The first episode to be aired on Channel 3, which currently publishes all its content on Facebook, has been filmed and piloted with a select audience. The episode focuses on food as a connector between youth across Syria.

Opening of the pilot cooking show on Channel 3

A platform for Syrian youth

Simon Safieh, a PeaceLens founder, highlights the importance of focusing on youth in Syria.

‘Youth are the most used in the war, they are the fuel for the conflict. At the same time, there is nowhere for them to meet, debate and share common ground. We are trying to create this common ground.’

Channel 3 targets two categories of youth in Syria — those that are committed to peace but who remain in the shadows (the voices of those who engage in conflict are louder, according to Simon), and those who have been engaged in conflict but who now wish to return to peace. For the latter, Syria’s media landscape, dominated by violent and divisive messages, ‘provides no space for them to return, nowhere for them to feel comfortable and secure’.

The right to fail

Simon and his team understand the need for space to develop ideas. The process of developing Channel 3 was itself a journey in which room to discuss, deliberate and test were crucial. According to Simon:

‘This space is often lacking in Syria, stifling creativity. Yet we have a right to fail. That right leads us to learn, to dream bigger and wilder.’

Through Channel 3, they hope to deliver that space to more Syrian youth, by providing opportunities for them to engage in the creation of content and in debates around key issues.

To test their ideas and content, they have created a closed Facebook group by selecting 100 volunteers from among their 10,000 Facebook followers. They shared the first episode with this group, surveying members to ascertain their reactions. So far, they received largely positive feedback from members, who recognised the importance of discussing what connects Syrian youth. One viewer noted:

‘Having a sense of something in common is very important, it gives us a feeling that we belong to Syria.’

Growing independent, youth-led content

As Channel 3 grows, PeaceLens will provide a variety of programs focusing on topics of interest to Syrian youth — music, film, dance, things they have in common. All the programs will be filmed and produced by the young people PeaceLens has been training across Syria. This, says Simon, ‘will provide a basis for a platform of knowledge. This is crucial in Syria today because we need a generation that has a collective identity, a collective memory, a collective awareness’.