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Friends and peacemakers in Lebanon

How young people in Lebanon are becoming peacebuilders by making friends and learning to understand each other.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 21 Jul 2023

Two young people sit next to each other on a skate park wall. Building friendships across social, ethnic and religious divides can help young people become natural peacebuilders in their communities.

Friends sit on a wall at a skatepark. Tearfund’s local partner in Lebanon has been running peacebuilding programmes designed to bring together young people from across religious and ethnic divides to learn more about one another, work alongside each other, and build relationships that start to bring understanding and healing. Credit: Aedrian/Unsplash

Lebanon is home to around 5.5 million people – with a total of 18 religious sects officially recognised. The country has a long history of tensions between different religious and political groups and, as a result of this, the national parliament was set up to try to ensure that the three biggest groups (Sunni, Shia and Maronite Christians) are equally represented and share power.

Despite this, religious, ethnic and political divisions remain deeply ingrained in Lebanon (often fuelled by political interests from outside the country) and are frequently reflected in social and political friction, resulting in civil unrest and – at times – armed conflict.

Lebanon has generously welcomed around 1.5 million Syrian refugees in recent years; however, whilst Lebanese people have demonstrated incredible hospitality, the influx of refugees has also put further strain on the country’s struggling economy and, in many cases, fuelled tensions.

Healing through restored relationships

One of our key beliefs at Tearfund is that restored relationships (with God, ourselves, our neighbours and creation) lie at the heart of addressing poverty and conflict. 

Our local partner in Lebanon has been running youth programmes designed to bring together young people from across religious and ethnic divides to learn more about one another, work alongside each other, and build relationships that start to bring understanding and healing.

Young people making friends from across divides

Karl* is 16. He is from an Armenian Lebanese family and studies at a Christian school. Before he joined the youth centre, he says he did not have any Arab or Muslim friends at all.

‘What changed most in me,’ Karl says now, ‘is how I see [people who are different to me]. Last year, … I thought they were bad people … Today, however, I am much more open-minded than I used to be. When I first joined the centre, I used to hang out with Christian friends only, but now I have many Muslim friends here and one of my good friends at the centre is Syrian. 

‘Daniel* and I were in the classroom during an activity where students made speeches to represent their people. The conversation sparked and our friendship took off that day.’

Understanding each other

The Ambassadors of Peace programme has helped Karl to understand his Arab friends more, he tells us. Now he listens to their different opinions without judgement – especially regarding religion.

‘I learned that one’s religion doesn’t dictate who they are, and the fact that some [people] may be bad isn’t necessarily connected to their religion but might go back to their upbringing or their parents’ problematic behaviour.’

Karl says he learned a lot during the sessions about guidelines for dialogue – helping people have open communication with each other and really hear and understand each other. He says he also enjoyed the social action, which involved the youth going out into the nearby streets to ask passersby peacemaking-related questions in order to better understand attitudes and opinions within their own neighbourhood.

Ambassadors of Peace

Karl says the Ambassadors of Peace programme was a catalyst for change in his attitude to those who are different from him. The programme taught him to listen and to learn about other cultures. 

As young people like Karl and Daniel and their friends start to build relationships, they have a natural and vital role in becoming peacemakers in their whole communities – simply by making new friends and learning to hear and understand one another better. 

*Names have been changed for protection.

Pray for peacebuilding in Lebanon

    • Praise God for the work of the Ambassadors for Peace programme and lift up all its participants. Ask that God will help the relationships that have been built to flourish and that the young people would be a catalyst for change in their communities.
    • Pray for Lebanon’s many sects. Ask God for bridges to be built between different groups through dialogue, friendship and mutual understanding, and for wise leaders to be raised up who will govern Lebanon with integrity.
    • Lift up the work of all those in Lebanon and around the world who are peacebuilders – whether in a large or small capacity. Pray that God will protect them and pour his grace and favour on their efforts.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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