Civic and religious leaders and government ministers gathered at SAT-7’s Lebanon studios on Thursday 9 February for an event to mark the publication of a very special book. It comprises moving stories that young people of different faiths, nationalities and races told at Storytelling Clubs that formed part of SAT-7’s social cohesion project, Lebanon, Our Story (LOS).
The book, also titled Lebanon Our Story, features 36 contributions shared by youth, aged 15 to 25, living in various regions of Lebanon. At the Storytelling Clubs they learned to share their stories and build bridges of understanding between themselves. These created a sense of shared space and experience and pointed to ways of building a shared future together.
Ten young people attended the Beirut event and expressed their excitement about participating in the project. Soha from Syria, 13, said: “We told our stories and heard other stories more painful than ours. Our stories are painful, so we shared our pains and our joys with one another. We found turning points in ourselves during that workshop. We realised that even though we come from different countries our difficult circumstances unite us and teach us solidarity.”
Roaa, another participant from Syria, added, “I got over loneliness and weakness. My weakness has turned to strength. I know my own value and my direction.”
Listening intently and visibly moved by the youth participants’ stories was Lebanon’s Information Minister, Ziyad Makary. He spoke with humility about the next generation when he said, “My hope and dream is for the youth to run the country. They have the right to dream for a better Lebanon and future.”
Juliana Sfeir, LOS Project Lead, explained how the project had gathered young people from across different communities who are involved with a number of civil society organisations on the ground.
Leaders attending the event praised the project and emphasised the common humanity that was the foundation for the young participants’ shared story.
Daniel Nygaard Madsen, Project Coordinator from CKU, the development arm of the Danish Church, had an appeal for them: “Please do not stop hoping for a better future,” he pleaded. “Your situation in Lebanon may be even worse now than two years ago, when this project began. And it is tempting to give in to fear and to allow powerful people to divide you. But please think about this: are you a Lebanese that happens to be a human being, or are you a human being that happens to be Lebanese? Are you a Syrian refugee that happens to be a human being, or are you a human being that happens to be a Syrian refugee? Please remember that our common humanity is what unites us.”
Dr Nader Hadifeh, Deputy to the Minister of Education in Lebanon, said the project is helping the Lebanese Ministry of Education achieve its goal of building a stronger community through students who focus on building the nation rather than sectarian differences.
“This is an excellent project because it focuses on what our societies need, which is putting humanity above our sectarian, national, and cultural differences,” said Elie Al Hindy, Executive Director of the Adyan Foundation, a Lebanon organisation which promotes citizenship and solidarity for all in Lebanon.
Fadi Abi Allam, Executive Director of Permanent Peace Movement, declared that the project had achieved its purpose through the valuable participation of youth in supporting social integration and social cohesion in a region much affected by distancing and disintegration, which lead to violent conflicts.
Resilience and support
The Storytelling Clubs are part of a wider project that includes a televised documentary, a social media campaign and an online cross-community platform.
The clubs were intended to strengthen the resilience and mental health of the participants and to promote social cohesion. The young people were encouraged to share their stories, offer peer support across national and sectarian boundaries, and identify common struggles, interests, and ways of overcoming hardship. This process bound them together around their common humanity and empowered them to write a new, shared story for themselves and their nation.
Speaking at the launch event, Anthony, a 15-year-old participant, said, “Nothing changes on its own; we must make more effort to effect change. There’s hope for change. As long as there are people like us in Lebanon, there will be change.”
“People must give the young generation a chance to show their work and not be prejudiced against them. With my ambitions, I can create opportunities and challenge the world to prove myself and prove that our generation can make a change for the better,” added Nancy, another contributor to the clubs.
LOS seeks to tap into the power of storytelling to write a new, shared narrative of hope for all peoples living in Lebanon based on openness, transparency, and accountability.
Fayez, a Syrian teenager who came to Lebanon as a refugee, shared what these changes could mean for people like him. “When I first came to Lebanon, they wanted to throw me in the trash because I am Syrian, but not now. They blamed Syrians at first, but now it’s different. For people to get closer, one must make the first move to know them and make them feel comfortable,” he said.
Download Lebanon Our Story
The Lebanon: Our Story book brings together the stories shared by young people at the Storytelling Club, in both Arabic and English. The stories are vulnerable, powerful, and filled with hope. Download the book in English
Lebanon: Our Story is run by SAT-7 and its partners, the Danish and Lebanese Bible Societies and the Centre for Church-Based Development (CKU), and is funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.