Lebanese Youth Break Down Barriers

Dear Friend,

I've often said that our sister Caritas agencies vastly extend our reach and multiply the effect of what we can achieve in serving people around the world. Even by this standard, what happened last summer during the war in Lebanon can only be called extraordinary.

During the emergency and afterward, Caritas Lebanon mobilized hundreds of enthusiastic youth volunteers. They went door-to-door to learn the specific needs of families, and then helped distribute food, hygiene items and other assistance in the villages. Youth also organized events for children to help alleviate the stress of being forced from their homes by the bombing.

During a recent trip to Lebanon, I had an opportunity to meet some of these youth, both volunteers and many young staff of Caritas Lebanon. They were so full of energy and “can do.” And they did a remarkable job in navigating the politics of polarized communities. They were not constrained by labels of “We're Christian, you're Muslim.” They just went beyond all these barriers.

During my visit, I went to Debbine, a Shiite village in the Marjaayoun area of southern Lebanon that was heavily targeted in the war because of suspected Hezbollah activity. Caritas is working there on a grant from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and has been able to help repair a dispensary, build a school library, and offer vocational training and trauma counseling.

The mayor of Debbine was full of praise for their work, saying that he's been watching their creativity and dedication in the community. He went on to joke that Pauline, an intelligent and dynamic young Caritas program staffer, is so well respected in the village that if she ever decided to run for mayor herself, she'd be a formidable opponent. “If she stood against me for election, she'd win,” he said with a smile.

CRS and Caritas Lebanon recognize that this cadre of progressively minded and community-oriented youth offers a strong foundation for our future outreach. Decades of civil strife and a lack of employment opportunity in Lebanon have contributed to a “brain drain” migration of the country's youngest talent. Engaging youth in future development, good governance and conflict transformation programs will be a key goal as we move forward.

To that end, CRS recently completed a project funded by the Irish government through Trocaire, our sister Caritas agency in Ireland, that offered vocational training to dozens of youth and women. In addition, the project provided businesses with storage facilities, marketing materials and equipment, including olive presses, bakery ovens and freezers. CRS and partners also ran workshops for children and adolescents on coping with the effects of war. Activities included summer camps for youth on leadership, conflict transformation and other life-building skills.

To explore options for future programs, CRS is working with the American University of Beirut on a nationwide study of youth attitudes. The study will ask young people about what opportunities and obstacles they see in their futures, as well as their thoughts on forging a civic identity that is Lebanese rather than sectarian. Results will be shared widely with nongovernmental organizations, local government and donor agencies.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers,

Ken Hackett

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