How the beautiful game has found a beautiful role in Lebanon: building peace and community in place of division and suspicion.
Ramy is used to playing the peacemaker. He’s the director of Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon (FFRL), who partner with Tearfund here. The foundation is trying to find ways to deal with the anger and frustration felt by many of the 1.5 million people who have settled in Lebanon, fleeing violence in Syria.
Ramy’s latest challenge is to calm someone he’s working with. The coach of the FFRL football team is on the phone and isn’t happy. He’s furious at how his team have been discriminated against at a recent soccer tournament. The coach told Ramy he wanted to ‘set fire to the playing field’.
A way in
Towards the end of 2018, FFRL launched the Play for peace initiative. It helps young refugees to manage their anger and overcome the tensions between them and local communities. They are a team trained in conflict resolution as well as keeping on the right side of the offside rule.
The tension they feel isn’t surprising: the sudden influx of so many refugees into such a small nation (Lebanon is roughly the same size as nearby Cyprus) was always likely to foster resentment on both sides. Added to that is the trauma that the migrants faced at home as they lost their homes, friends and families. So much of this pain and resentment remains undealt with.
The coach’s anger is understandable. A dishonest piece of dealing between sporting officials and the opposing team can feel like a reflection of the discrimination these young people face all the time in their lives. He’s impatient for change and fairness, but anger isn’t the way forward...
The long road
To many of the young refugees, the idea of peace is nothing more than an uneasy sectarian co-existence. It’s about keeping out of trouble but not addressing the hurts and resentments that lie beneath. But through FFRL, they are learning about real peacemaking, both on and off the pitch.
The sports initiative is combined with a broader curriculum of reconciliation called The forgiveness journey. The curriculum focuses on non-violent conflict resolution. It deals with issues of anger and hurt in a constructive, restorative way by exploring forgiveness as a first step towards peace and reconciliation.
The idea is that the men of the FFRL team advocate for preventing violence, and transform potential conflict within their football network – proverbial salt and light.
According to Ramy and FFRL, the football field can be the perfect place to build bridges between communities. Like eating together, sport is an important way of integrating communities.
Choosing to do things ‘for peace’ is a tough choice for many here. It’s a moment-by-moment decision.
A good influence
The choice to work with young people is deliberate. ‘We work with them because they are starting to find their roles and responsibilities in society. They can have a significant influence on the people around them,’ says Ramy.
The team coach is finally calmed down. One of his assistants noticed his anger and told him: ‘Remember, we are playing for peace’. The coach remembered his role and began to calm down. His team mate had reminded him why they were here.
Choosing to do things ‘for peace’ is a tough choice for many here. It’s a moment-by-moment decision in people’s lives. However, every time they choose reconciliation and forgiveness, they briefly become an ambassador of hope.
Thank you for the peacemakers of this world and the ways they work to resolve hatred and resentment. Bless all those in Lebanon and around the Middle East who are helping spread peace, reconciliation and healing among those whose lives have been shattered by war.
And dear God, please grow a spirit of peacemaking and forgiveness in my own heart.