To mark 50 years of Tearfund, we’re sharing about 50 countries where we’ve worked, celebrating God’s provision and power to transform, and praying for each of these nations. This week we’re in Lebanon.
Lebanon is home to a rich diversity of ethnic and religious groups. Unfortunately, this has meant that it has also experienced a significant amount of civil conflict, while at the same time playing host to many refugees: one in four people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. Tearfund has been working in Lebanon since early 2013, in response to the refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Syria.
Through our partners, we have provided food and hygiene supplies for refugee families living in informal tented settlements. We have supported them to survive the very cold winters. But, as the situation continues, and with Lebanon’s history of conflict, there is a great long-term need to address the issues of communities and society fractured by conflict.
Tearfund is committed to growing peacebuilding capacity in the Middle East. ‘We seek out people with a passion, vision and sense of calling to build peace in their communities and countries,’ explains Mariam Tadros, Tearfund’s Programme Coordinator for Peacebuilding.
Ramy Taleb is one such person. He grew up in the middle of the Lebanese civil war, where 250,000 people died between 1975 and 1990. It devastated his childhood, filling him with fear. Ramy could have held onto the feelings of anger and injustice, but he learned the power of forgiveness – it changed his life.
Now, as he watches more than 60 Lebanese and Syrian young people cross the play area of a school in Beirut to start a game of football, he has his concerns; but he knows the power of acceptance and forgiveness, and wants to pass it on.
Young people lead the way
A group of teenagers had taken part in a programme Ramy runs to help young people realise that diversity does not have to mean division. They decided football was a great way to address some of the tensions in their area.
‘Football is universal. It crosses cultural and religious boundaries and immediately provides some common ground,’ explains Ramy. ‘It also creates a platform to deal with conflict in a healthy, restorative way – and one that is hopefully fun at the same time.’
‘We wanted to empower the young people to be peace ambassadors by letting them take the initiative in leading the event. Ultimately, our aim was to build relationships between communities, to provide a safe space to do this and to overcome dehumanising and stereotypical perceptions.’
So, did it work?
There were some challenges in ensuring participants remained positive, and didn’t act aggressively towards each other – but that’s the competitive nature of the sport. ‘But in the end, it was a breakthrough event... the players’ general acceptance and encouragement of each other in both communities was amazing,’ says Ramy.
Ramy and his team hope that the peacebuilding efforts of the young people will be noticed by their families and communities and have a knock-on effect.
Nurturing role models
In every area of conflict there are people breaking down walls, building togetherness and restoring relationships so that they can have peace. Often, working as individuals they can feel alone and overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge.
We want to support and sustain these individuals, nurturing, equipping and connecting them so they are transformed into a resilient movement of peacebuilders.
Mariam concludes: ‘In gathering the right people, with the right ideas at an opportune time, we will see significant impact in each community. In focussing on individuals who have a sense of calling to be peacebuilders, we can provide a space for them to explore how they can be role models and mentors for others.’