Peace Building Clubs connect Lebanese youth with their collective history
A group of Lebanese university students from different sectarian backgrounds set out from Martyr Square in Beirut, in June 2012, on a mission to discover The Bus that they have heard about so often.
Its story was not in their history books, but they heard of it from their parents, who all narrated their own version of the tragic “Ain el Remmaneh Bus incident” that sparked the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990, leaving a mark on the history of the country and its people.
“I was not even born at the time but once I stepped into the wrecked and bullet-filled bus, the stories that I my family told about the Ain el Remmaneh Bus came to life instantly,” said Helene Moukarzel, a student majoring in law and a member in the Peace Building Club at St. Joseph University.
“I felt the presence of those who were in the bus; I heard the gun shots; I could not believe that I am reliving the moment.”
All over Lebanon, students have established these Peace Building Clubs at their universities which serve as “safe spaces” bringing together youth from different backgrounds and affiliations to discuss critical issues of concern and share values of tolerance and civic responsibility.
In order to promote a culture of peaceful dialogue and reconciliation among them, UNDP’s Peace Building Project supported the establishment of 12 Clubs, equipping more than 200 students with effective conflict management, negotiation and mediation skills, and introducing them to approaches to deal with their past and to understand, accept and respect the “other”.
In their text books, Lebanese students learn about World Wars, the French Revolution, and U.S. history, but their own history is subject to multiple and at times conflicting narratives; for some of their families history is even a taboo subject. It is just too painful.
Almost twenty-two years have passed since the end of the war with more than 200,000 deaths, yet there is no mention whatsoever about the civil war in Lebanese history schoolbooks.
The Taif Peace Accord that put an end to the conflict has called for the creation of a common history textbook among other subjects. Historians worked hard to prepare a curriculum to suit Lebanese from all backgrounds, but unfortunately political disagreement over the contents suspended the book’s distribution.
Realizing the need for recounting the history of Lebanon and fostering a sense of collective memory, UNDP and a local NGO, UMAM in partnership with the EU, launched an informal and innovative project in 2011.
The initiative builds on the painful connotation of the old bus - at UMAM’s premises - turning it into a positive one embodied by a new bus “The Bus Takes the Podium: Voyages into Lebanon’s history and its people”.
The mobile bus, currently touring the nation, is equipped with UMAM’s archive on the civil war, from diaries, events, missing persons’ data to media coverage. During its “memory stops”, Lebanese citizens are engaging in various educational and awareness raising activities aimed at initiating dialogue on history and reconciliation.
University Peace Building Club members, inspired by UMAM’s work, joined forces to shoot a documentary on the memory of the Lebanese Civil War funded by the UN Volunteers programme in Lebanon.
The film revolves around a mother whose son went missing; a photojournalist who covered the conflict and a psychoanalyst specialized in remembrance and trauma. The students also interviewed people in their villages who have been affected by the war.
In line with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education’s National Education Strategic Framework: Education Sector Development Plan 2010-2015, UNDP’s Peace Building Project* has been contributing to social integration and providing key actors with the knowledge and skills needed for living in a diverse society.
Today, Lebanese youth are starting to frame their own understanding of their common history. “We will showcase the documentary in our universities and hold discussion sessions to sensitize others about the importance of remembering our past and dealing with it, as it is the basis of building a sustainable peace in Lebanon,” explains Moukarzel.
*The Peace Building Project (Phase I: 2007-2010) is also known as Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon Project (Phase II: 2011-2012)