Wading Through the Challenges Toward a New Operational Framework
July 14, 2020
A Representative of the Gospel
June 12, 2020

Peacebuilding in Cyber Space: Khebz w Meleh Online

Jad Tabet meets with the KwM team over Zoom

Jimmy: Hello? Can you hear me?

Me: Yes, we can hear you.

Arsho: But I can’t hear you. The internet is lagging a lot today.

Me: Let’s try turning off our video feeds; maybe that’ll make it easier to connect.

Jimmy: Ah! It’s working now. Okay, down to business…

This is how my conversation started with Jimmy and Arsho, our youth interfaith forum implementers, on the 29th of May 2020. We were meeting over Zoom to discuss the latest developments with the Institute of Middle East Studies’ (IMES) Khebz w Meleh (Bread and Salt – KwM) peacebuilding initiative. KwM is a curriculum-based youth interfaith peacebuilding initiative that brings together Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian Christian and Muslim youths in Lebanon to share meals, openly discuss their faith, and act for the common good of their local communities. The program brings these youths together in eight sessions during which they learn to communicate peacefully, work to overcome prejudices, and cooperate in shared social action.

When the pandemic hit in late February/early March, the KwM team had just transitioned into their busy season; they had already finished conducting sessions for one group, were almost done with another, and were just starting with a third. The pandemic and the restrictions it brought with it forced the team to suspend physical sessions and focus on restructuring the initiative’s curriculum to meet current needs. “For a month after the lockdown was announced, we researched, conducted data analysis, and studied the projections health organizations had made for the pandemic for the near future. We found that the most efficient way for us to continue carrying out the initiative is to transition the program online” shares Arsho, our Peacebuilding Logistics Coordinator.

“Part of the curriculum’s identity is that it is highly adaptable so that it can benefit different people differently based on their social, cultural, and religious contexts. This gave us flexibility in how we adapted the program for an online setting since we had to contend with new difficulties created by the pandemic and older difficulties with the country’s infrastructure” shares Jimmy, our Peacebuilding Field Coordinator and Project Lead for KwM. “So, we chose to double down on the essential points that make up the identity of the program. We increased our emphasis on discussion and on auditory and visual elements and reduced the number of participants per group. This helped us maintain engagement throughout the sessions. We also reduced the amount of time the participants had to spend in Zoom calls by reducing the number and length of sessions they had to attend. This helped us contend with difficulties like power outages and weak internet connections.”

The team is conducting sessions for four new groups under the online format and is finding it more successful than expected. “At first, I thought it would be difficult to bring such diverse people together in an online video conference session, but as soon as we started with the groups, communication felt very organic,” shares Arsho. One of the participants shares, “Now that I know my neighbors better, my opinion of them has changed, and I feel that I can begin to love them and make friends with the ones I met through KwM.” Another group participant shares, “I never imagined that Christians would be this open-minded and loving towards the other. I am impressed to see how we share many virtues and values.” The team is looking forward to conducting as many groups as possible over the coming months.

Ever since the start of the demonstrations over the economic crisis, and with the increase in clashes between members of different parties, sectarian tensions have been on the rise. As such, peacebuilding continues to be a need for the betterment of the Lebanese society today. We pray that the Lord guides our actions as we seek to be conduits of peace in Lebanon and beyond.