From prejudice to genuine encounters – YMCA camp in Lebanon trains young peacemakers
Peacebuilding camp in an exceptional environment
An international peace camp was held at Camp el Fares, the YMCA Lebanon’s camp centre on the scenic Ras el Matn mountain. As in previous camps, one of the tools used in the seven-day training was the participatory methods of Yökoris. The September camp also piloted the YMCA’s peacebuilding approach.
31 young people from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt attended the peace camp together with seven Finnish volunteers. Counselors and volunteers from the Finnish Yökoris / Midnight Basketball community introduced the Yökoris approach, shared its best practices with the Lebanese youth and developed their peace-building skills together. At the same time, the participants were introduced to youth work methods through sports and to the realities of young people in different cultures.
The peacebuilding camps are part of the Youth, Peace and Livelihoods development cooperation programme of YMCA Finland, which is implemented in cooperation with a local YMCA partner. The Lebanon camp was organised by YMCA Finland, YMCA Lebanon and YMCA Helsinki.
Young people in Lebanon yearn for the power of positive change
The peace camp enabled young people to meet in an exceptional and unique way.
–We know that the camp has its own magic that makes young people accept diversity on a certain level, Tony El Mir, Programme Manager of YMCA Lebanon reflects.
There is a huge need for youth peer-to-peer encounters in a country characterised by prolonged economic and political instability. The Syrian civil war has brought the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to more than 1.5 million. The country that is struggling amid many crisises is finding it difficult to provide a labour market and basic services for its growing population, and the tensions caused by the refugee crisis in Lebanon are strongly reflected in relations between young people. The country’s southern border has also been troubled for decades by clashes between Israel and the armed wing of the Islamist Hezbollah party. The unresolved plight of the Palestinian territories and the latest horrendous conflict in Gaza have further deepened young people’s uncertainty about the future. Razane Alzein, who took part in the camp, feels that Lebanese youth need an accepting atmosphere:
–Young people in Lebanon have been through so much from a young age. Refugee youth, in particular, are traumatised; they may have had to leave their homes and go on the move without their families. We have a lot of problems with relationships between my generation. We desperately need safe spaces for young people from different backgrounds.
The YMCA’s peace work is built on three elements that promote peace
The camp piloted the principles of YMCA’s peace work. Daniela Miller, an international work planner, who has been involved in developing the peace work components of the camp, explains the approach developed by YMCA Finland:
– YMCAs worldwide work with young people in different ways, but they have at least three elements in common. They offer young people a safe space, meaningful activities and new skills, and thirdly, they encourage young people to act in their community and influence decision-making.
At the beginning of the camp, the concept of a safer space was introduced, and a set of common principles were written down to which all participants committed themselves in order to create a safer space. Everyone’s personality and physical and mental space are respected, and different ideas are valued in a safer space. Listening and discussion are the most important tools.
As part of the joint programme, the young people participated in games, danced together, and got to know each other’s cultures, especially through music. The educational sessions and workshops covered interaction skills, social inclusion, and inclusive coexistence. The camp reflected on the factors that cause segregation and exclusion between different population groups and people and looked for ways to remedy the prevailing attitudes. Difficult and multi-layered content was illustrated and brought down to the grassroots level through small group activities. Participants from different religions and cultural backgrounds addressed their own attitudes, and each challenge was also addressed by considering concrete solutions.
Towards the end of the camp, participants planned and implemented four community events for children and young people. A total of 650 participants were counted to have attended these events. The events were organised using best practices from Yökoris.
–For most participants, organising events open to the public was new. Each young person also got to experience how their actions can contribute to the well-being and peaceful development of children and young people in the community, explains Miller.
The camp increased young people’s self-esteem and peace skills
The workshops included self-expression, expressing one’s feelings, cooperation skills and constructive approaches to conflict and conflict resolution.
For many participants, the camp centre, and in particular the accepting atmosphere created together at the camp, offered for the first time an experience of a safer space and encouraged them to express their own thoughts and views on issues that concern them. In a safe atmosphere, young people could share their dreams and challenges. Young people also felt that peace education helped them to examine and overcome their own prejudices and attitudes.
– Inspired by peace education, I want to introduce the concept of safer spaces myself when I organise literary workshops. I want to create an atmosphere where people from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to participate, says Rayan Mansour, who has just graduated as a social worker.
The camp experience lifted young people above their everyday lives and offered them new experiences and outlooks for the future. After the camp, the young people wanted to contribute to fostering interaction where people’s different backgrounds, perspectives, world views, and ideas are respected and conflicts resolved through mediation. The youth who attended the camp left motivated to continue their work for peace – sad to say goodbye, but enriched by many experiences and new friends.
Programme Officer, YMCA Finland
+358 400 688 650
Programme Officer, YMCA Finland
+358 400 688 650
Photos from top to bottom:
Sharbel Daher and Marie-Jose Saad
Razane Alzein and ”Basu” Bashkim Grepi
Our Youth, Peace and Livelihoods Development Cooperation Programme aims to improve local living conditions and promote livelihood opportunities and peacebuilding skills for young people. The programme is implemented with YMCA partners in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Lebanon, and Palestine 2022–2025, with funding from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.