June 2015 - Lebanon
The Syrian crisis is approaching its fifth year and, according to the United Nations, 6,5 million Syrians are currently internally displaced and at least 4 million have sought refuge out of the country. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 1.2 million Syrian refugees have found shelter in Lebanon. This represents 27% of the total Lebanese population of 4.5 million. According to the Lebanese Government the real number is at least 500’000 larger.
Despite Lebanon’s open doors to Syrian refugees, the massive presence and the history amid the two populations lead relentlessly to tensions. The crisis has affected the economy and the social stability of Lebanon in a way that encourages negative perceptions of outsiders.
For RET it is clear that this is an issue which has to be addressed. Social cohesion amongst varied groups and stability of communities are essential in times of crisis. This is especially true in a small country with a pluralistic society, where historically there have been at least 18 different religions represented.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA) and in coordination with other actors working on social issues in the country, RET has developed a series of initiatives aimed at bringing together the youth of host and refugee communities.
After all, who better than young people to lead the efforts in social cohesion and to pave the path together?
After a series of trainings for Lebanese and refugee youth aimed at develop-ing strategies for conflict resolution and dialogue, a more specific initiative has been put in place: Quick Impact/Implementation Projects (QIPs).
These youth-led projects are meant to address economic, social and cultural needs identified by the youth in the communities where they live. Young people from both host and refugee communities approach the issues in a creative manner and work together on the identification of the problem as well as the development and implementation of the project.
The youth identify the needs such as, for example, clothes for Syrian refugee families or a public garden that could use a bit of landscaping and then create and implement the project. Their projects have ranged from organising a mixed Lebanese-Syrian football match to raising funds for toys and activities for orphaned children. We were highly impressed by their imagination and insights regarding the needs of their communities.
These QIPs proved to be very effective in bringing young people together and contributing to building a new vision of “the other” based on real human exchanges rather than perceptions. In the last year alone, RET supported 1’200 youth who collectively put together more than 60 QIPs in 10 different areas of Lebanon.
When interviewed, young people who participated expressed feeling proud of their work as well as being very pleasantly surprised by what they learned about the people they were told to be wary of. Through RET’s support, a new level of “relaxed normality” has been reached among many of the youth who participated.
This perfectly illustrates one of RET’s core beliefs, that youth are positive actors able to change the reality of their communities if provided with the right skills and opportunities. Furthermore, RET cherishes the underlying philosophy of programmes such as these. They adapt to the realities of the field without imposing ideas or passive teaching, rather the model is based on providing the space and the tools for young people to autonomously develop their abilities and leadership. After all, they will become tomorrow’s leaders.