Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Between 1975 and 1992, Lebanon witnessed a civil war, where the country was divided and people of different confessions were locked in their villages. As borders and checkpoints were dismantled, the psychological barriers in people’s minds remained and they were confined to their small towns. Many generations grew up belonging to their town, village or tribe which has a distinct confession; countless youth have never set foot in towns belonging to a different confession nor interacted with other Lebanese citizens belonging to different confessions.
Lebanon's population make-up is comprised of 60% Muslims and 40% Christians, each in turn divided to different sects. Shiites comprise the largest Muslim group, and other Muslims include Sunnis and Druses. Christians include Maronite, Eastern/ Greek and Armenian Orthodox, Greek and Roman Catholics, and Armenians.
In Lebanon, parents raise their children to focus on the differences distinguishing them from others, giving priority to their confessional identity over their identity as Lebanese. As a consequence, youth find it hard to relate to others from different confessions, a fact that undermines any sentiments of national unity and causes a feeling of disconnection from the land, its history and heritage.
Historical knowledge is the basis for building common grounds for citizens. In Lebanon, history is often neglected, and the same history textbooks are used in schools since 1960, before the civil war. As a result history becomes one more boring and abstract subject that students cannot relate to.
As conflicts prevailed in the post-civil war era, a number of initiatives –mostly foreign- tried to build peace by attempting to resolve conflicts. In parallel, a number of programs -also established by international organizations- emerged to preserve Lebanese archaeological heritage per se. However, all of these initiatives neglect the notion of solidarity building among youth on the long term by linking them to their common history; existing programs either focus on conflict resolution or on heritage preservation as separate goals.
Among the initiatives which propagate conflict resolution practices throughout the region is the Euro-Med Youth Program which operates in numerous partner countries across the Middle East, including Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria through CSOs working in the field. In Lebanon, many of these activities raise youth's awareness on their rights, particularly equal employment opportunities and on the hazards they face (such as drug-abuse).
A number of programs are concerned with heritage protection, such as the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue; the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace; and Horizon for Research and Development. Those programs work on youth inclusion practices and organize trips to areas of interest in the country, whilst reminding youth of the importance of historical sites. Another project is the US- funded Lebanon Mountain Trail, which links rural communities and national parks that fall along ancient trade routes through Lebanon's central mountain range. The trail promotes eco-tourism and brings the local communities together.
Another project is "Offre-Joie" which works on the restoration of peace in Lebanon. Offre-Joie is one of the few organizations open to working with Lebanese citizens from different areas and different confessions. Offre Joie organizes summer camps for youth where it tries to instil the values of mutual respect among youth from different regions in Lebanon and gets them to interact together once a year.
In contrast with existing initiatives. Joanne Bajjaly's Biladi builds solidarity and national unity using heritage preservation as a tool. Her approach is applicable in other post-conflict countries in the region such as Sudan and Iraq and in countries where citizens are not bonded with their history.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In a country where geographic and sectarian isolation have prevented the development of national unity, Joanne Bajjaly is creating a new and larger sense of wonder and pride in being Lebanese. Her goal goes beyond tolerance, to appreciation of the country's rich heritage, grounded in its diversity. Joanne is a pioneer is using heritage as a tool for building citizenship and harmony in post conflict countries where confessional divides and psychological barriers prevail. Where history is used by politicians to divide, Joanne uses it to unite by building a national identity to replace existing confessional-based identities. Her approach, now applied in Lebanon equips youth, their teachers and parents with historical knowledge that enables them to move beyond confessional tension to realize they belong to one nation. Initiating school-based field trips through her enterprise "Biladi", Joanne guides children to venture into the unknown - employing historic sites beyond their small towns, to experience culture outside their own sect and environment. Here, in addition to seeing and role-playing in a different time and part of society, they safely begin to interact with and accept Lebanese of different religious and social practices who they otherwise would never meet. This is a preventive and progressive program, extending over time and into new areas of the country. To spread the impact of her initiative, Joanne trains school teachers and local guides to use her methodology and toolkits to present history in an attractive format and use alternative educational methods to introduce students to their common heritage. Joanne also plans to replicate her model by sharing knowledge with other CSOs concerned with peaceful coexistence in ethnic ridden countries in the region, such as Sudan and Iraq, or with countries where citizens do not feel a strong bond with their heritage, such as Egypt. Joanne's efforts to promote peaceful coexistence among Lebanese citizens contrasts with existing approaches; as other initiatives focus primarily on conflict resolution thereby adopting a curative approach as opposed to Joanne's preventive approach, and focusing on dividing factors rather than uniting factors.