Building Peace Through Lebanese Youth

Hussein, a 23-year-old man living in a volatile region of Lebanon, is part of CRS’ peacebuilding programs for youth. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

“I hated what happened…we knew two guys who died in Beirut. I don’t feel safe any more. I am not even worried about my future but about what will happen tomorrow morning.”

These fearful words by a 24-year-old man about last May’s fighting in Lebanon underscore the tensions that threaten this fragile Middle Eastern country. There are more than a dozen political parties in Lebanon, 18 religious groups, and involvement from other countries who see Lebanon as key to advancing their own interests. Too often ordinary Lebanese feel powerless before their own political leaders and those of other countries.

Lebanon has been in the news a lot recently. In May, it chose a president after months of deadlock marked by assassinations and fighting. Last week, it named its government ministers after an 18-month standoff. This week, it exchanged prisoners with Israel, bringing some closure to the war of summer 2006. Everyone watching this complex, troubled land hopes it can overcome a decades-old legacy of violence.

With its peacebuilding programs, CRS is helping Lebanese communities to find common ground. In the south of Lebanon, where political and religious divisions among Shia, Sunni, and Christian groups have caused problems, CRS partners ask people from opposing factions to brainstorm projects everyone in a town can agree on. These “consensus building” programs focus on improvements like better water and electrical systems. In Minyeh, a poor town in the north of Lebanon, CRS works with local partner Na-am to teach young people in their 20s about good government. The young people ask their neighbors what would make their community better, and then work with town authorities and with each other to make it happen. Youth are having strong impact — in one town the adults have noted that the municipality picks up the trash more frequently now that the youth are more involved.

Hamada, a 25-year-old man living in a volatile region of Lebanon, is part of CRS’ peacebuilding programs for youth. Here, he speaks to his community and its mayor. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

Hamada, 25, and Hussein, 23, are both Scout leaders from Minyeh. In Minyeh, “you can find a Muslim house next to a Christian house,” they say. Unlike in some towns, the two groups usually get along. “Muslims bring Christian friends food baskets for Christmas, and Christians visit Muslims for [the holy month of] Ramadan.”

The two young men became involved in the Na-am project, asking the townspeople what they wanted. “I liked doing the questionnaire—asking people’s opinions,” says Hussein. “We decide which project is needed and choose the most important ones.” The Minyeh group narrowed down the choices to a town musical group and a town library; projects in nearby towns helped improve garbage pickup and beautify the towns to increase tourism. In general, the youth groups “try to bring together people who are at each other’s throats,” says Hussein. “We have them talk it out and focus on the common good.”

The CRS-funded program “is the only constructive activity that youth have in Minyeh,” says CRS program manager Roula Hbeichi. “It shows that there are other things than war which youth can be involved in.”

Though the Lebanese people and their local governments are still fragmented, CRS and its strong Lebanese partners hope that a new era may begin soon—and are working to create a society that chooses peace.

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One Response to “Building Peace Through Lebanese Youth”

  1. Dan Says:

    The work you discussed here is valauble for so many reasons and you are to be commended for your efforts. Advancing the elements of self determination, assiting in the organization and development of civil society and the inter-faith bridiging being xonducted by CRS is helping to build social capial between different groups in this troubled part of the world. I truly admire the humanitarian work you are doing. It seems to be in keeping with the richest traditions and tenets of our faith

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