On Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 and in commemoration of International Youth Day, LOST and UNICEF celebrated the launching of nine Youth-Led Initiative Projects, the results of 15 summer camps joining Syrian and Lebanese adolescents.
More than 200 attendees gathered in LOSTs’ hall headquarters, including Bashir Khodr, governor of Baalbek, Ramy Lakkis, Founder and President of LOST, Bayan Yammout, UNICEF/Canada Goodwill Ambassador, Amal Obeid, Adolescent & Youth Program Officer, UNICEF Lebanon, local key stakeholders in the community, mayors from various municipalities, representatives of security forces and summer camp participants.
After the initiation through the Lebanese anthem, Head of LOST, Dr. Ramy Lakkis welcomed everyone for celebrating this great day with our future leaders, the youth of Lebanon. Dr. Lakkis said, “It is great to know these young men and women have come together to do good for their community with out distinguishing between genders and nationalities. Even though our resources may be limited, our ability to change is strong.”
The 200 Lebanese and Syrian summer participants could barely stay in their seats from the excitement that their hard work is being recognized in front of the Governor and the UNICEF representatives.
The Youth-Led Initiatives
In the Baalbek camp, the youth with the help from UNICEF and LOST provided computers at Dar Al Fatwa, a place for any vulnerable person, no matter their religion or nationality, to utilize. These ten computers were made available for both Syrian and Lebanese to establish fellowships and use for academic purposes in hopes to help ease away negative images between the two.
In Buday, the youth installed water channels in the form of sprinklers to irrigate the fields. Through the trainings they learned the importance of the community and how to be righteous in giving back to the community.
To revitalize genuine attitude between Syrian and Lebanese, the youth at the Labwe camp painted a large wall with positive messages where everyone can see. Words are more powerful than a sword after all.
Brital, one of municipalities hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, allowed the youth to renovate a soccer field and purchase uniforms for the teams; instead of sitting outside waiting for something negative to happen. The Mayor of Brital was just as excited to get the adolescents to exchange positive competition; he offered the grounds next to the municipal building.
In Shaat, the youth and municipality decided to do a similar project like the one in Brital, in installing playground toys for kids to benefit from.
The municipality of Shmustar had a traffic problem that resulted in accidents that often made a victim of a Syrian refugee. The Youth at this camp used their time to install traffic mirrors to promote safer driving and decrease the number of accidents.
In Hawsh el Rafka, the youth made a shaded area just beside the city council where individuals can relax, think, or feel free and independent. They built a literal common ground to remind everyone that no matter where we are from, we are all human. The project will aid in strengthening local community and reducing tensions. With the presence of a proud mayor of the municipality in the hall, the youth cheered loud with the mayor clapping along.
Implementing these youth-led initiatives, LOST is promoting constructive behavioral and communication skills to stray from violent actions. These initiatives came to meet a local need, mitigate tensions between the displaced from Syria and the hosting community, and provide a role model of positive interaction between the two communities. They also revitalized mutual understanding between Syrian and Lebanese to alleviate the negative views from the repercussions of the high influx of Syrian refugees into the region.
A Syrian participant, Dana Khayto, a 17-year-old female said she had to drop out of school. When Khayto first came to Lebanon with her family she was susceptible to harassment from her former colleagues because she is Syrian. After the summer camps she became more confident and concluded that not everyone is alike. Khayto made friends both Lebanese and Syrian and feels blessed to have this opportunity to feel like a unified hand.
Ali Barroud, a 19-year-old Lebanese participant from the Baalbek summer camp said this experience was exciting and he loved being of value in the community.
“This is an opportunity that all youths should take advantage of and not miss, I learned not to hate and not to judge people and that really changed my perspective of the world around me,” said Barroud.
Governor of Baalbek-Hermel, Bashir Khodr said, “Violence is everywhere and there is crime all around us in this area filled with tensions, but what the youth is doing is stepping towards eradicating violence.”
Amal Obeid, Adolescent & Youth Program Officer at UNICEF spoke about how proud UNICEF is of the youth for being assets to society and implementing successful projects despite the sad truth of the present civil disturbance in Lebanon. She also capitalized on the fruitful and timely partnership with a credible local actor as LOST.
Lebanese-Canadian Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, Bayan Yammout was the last to speak and by the looks on the spectators’ faces, Yammout inspired them.
“I’m proud to be Lebanese, even if I have lived in Germany and Canada, my roots are still in Lebanon,” she said. Yammout learned a lesson from her time at camp as an adolescent “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask if you are getting the right information. Be proud of who you are, of your culture, religion and language,” Yammout said.