Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Lebanon club channels the power of peace

By Vaseline May31,2024

Club from Lebanon channels the ‘power of peace’

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Like many young professionals in Lebanon, Anhal Kozhaya was willing to take his place among the newest generation to escape the country’s troubles – this time not a war but an economic crisis that has led to widespread poverty, social unrest and a collapse of the public services. Then he had second thoughts.

“Rotary is, honestly, what kept me here in Lebanon,” says the 22-year-old, who works as an administrative assistant at the British Embassy in Beirut. “Rotary is what kept me motivated, inspired and always wanting more for my country. If that hadn’t been the case, I would have left this country a long time ago and wouldn’t have thought twice about coming back.”

Kozhaya is president of the Rotary Club of Beirut Pax Potentia, or “the power of peace” in Latin. The year-old club, which focuses on peacebuilding, has its origins in a project funded by a global grant from the Rotary Foundation. Another notable feature: its 17 members have an average age of 23, a young target group that is leaving Lebanon in large numbers.

Lebanon, once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East due to its status as a regional banking center, has experienced waves of emigration over the past half century. These migrations began with the 1975-1990 civil war and have accelerated during an economic crisis that began in 2019 and has fueled triple-digit inflation, shut down the banking sector and pushed millions into poverty.

Members of the Rotary Club of Beirut Pax Potentia, including (from left) Elissa Tabet, Jeanne d’Arc Davoulbeuyukian, Noor Akoum and Anhal Kozhaya, are steeped in the principles of positive peace.

Image credit: Florient Zwein

Rotary clubs in Lebanon have stepped in to provide critical services, and the new club is advancing these efforts through a peacebuilding framework. Its young members are steeped in the principles of Positive Peace, an approach that seeks to promote the institutions, attitudes and conditions that allow peace to flourish.

The club’s first public event was an international conference on Youth as Peace Agents, which helped generate ideas for projects. Founded in June 2023, the club typically meets weekly, online or in a coworking space in Beirut. The members are so dedicated that even those who had to move abroad to Italy, Malta and Belgium for their studies continue to log in whenever they can.

Against the backdrop of the economic crisis, Lebanon also remains deeply divided along sectarian lines more than thirty years after the devastating civil war. Today, eighteen recognized religious sects compete for power in a fractious political system, with near-constant interference from neighboring countries.

Lebanon’s challenges must be examined in relation to positive peace, Kozhaya says. “You can’t talk about the environment without talking about peace,” he explains. “You cannot talk about women’s rights, tolerance, human rights and community economic development without bringing in a peacebuilding perspective.”

For one project, club members visited the Maryam and Martha Community, an organization that helps women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence. They raised money for the organization and collected donations including food, basic hygiene products and clothing.

In February they organized a workshop on the relationship between peacebuilding and theatre. Among other goals, the club is planning a peace conference, a fashion show with an emphasis on inclusivity and diversity, and a scholarship fund focused on peacebuilding. Members also want to mentor high school students.

Make your club a peacebuilding powerhouse

Would you like to explore how your club can get involved in peacebuilding? The Rotary Action Group for Peace provides Rotary members with ideas, resources and support to promote peace. Here’s an example:

  • Plant a peace pole and hold a dedication ceremony to engage your members and community in peacebuilding and positive peace.
  • Take the free Rotary Positive Peace Academy online course.
  • Search the activist group’s curated list of peace programs that Rotary members can use in their communities for everyone from preschoolers to adults.
  • Join the Peacebuilder Club program by engaging in dialogues and projects that promote positive peace.
  • Support the work of Rotary Peace Fellowship alumni in your region.
  • Volunteer with Rotary Youth Exchange and inspire young leaders to serve as catalysts for peace and social justice.

The mentorship of older Rotarians is what built the club. Mona Jarudi, member of the Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan, and fellow Rotarian George Beyrouti applied for a global grant that provided peacebuilding training to youth in their Rotary district in 2021. They partnered with NewGen Peacebuilders, an education and training skills program led by Rotary Peace Fellow Patricia Shafer.

“Lebanon is a multi-sectoral, highly politicized country, and the youth need a way to express their views that are different from those of their parents or different from those around them,” Jarudi said. “The students themselves chose the topics they wanted to work on. And despite everything, internet problems, electricity problems, fuel shortages, you name it, those students did not miss a moment.”

Jarudi encouraged some of those NewGen alumni, including Kozhaya, to form a Rotary club. As interest grew, the students and young professionals spent time at Jarudi’s apartment overlooking Beirut on weekends to prepare their club for the charter.

Bayan Fakih, 21, one of the founders, is studying for her master’s degree in international politics in Belgium, but makes sure to participate in the club’s online events. She has been surprised by the extent to which the club has opened her perspectives regarding peace and what can be achieved at the community level. “We are not policy makers. We try to promote the idea of ​​peace from a tangible perspective to the people around us, in our communities and even in the world,” she says.

For member Elise Korban, 31, the club is a place where she can combine her artistic interests with her passions for peacebuilding. She works at a human rights non-profit organization and has a background in visual arts, architecture and social sciences.

Korban, who has had difficult conversations with her father about his experiences in the civil war, believes it is important that artists help foster a collective memory of Lebanon’s history. “Our history books stop after the Second World War,” she says. “The Civil War is not on the books because there are different points of view. So as artists we are responsible to provide a collective memory of these events.”

A shared vision of the future is also important. “I believe that Rotarians are the torchbearers and that they bring light to the communities where they are present,” says Kozhaya. “Beirut has been the subject of much violence and yet it is a phoenix that has risen from the ashes so many times. Our work with Rotary sends a message to everyone in Lebanon that we have a duty to work within a framework of peace.”

This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue Rotating magazine.

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