Lebanon News

Lebanese students use cultural exchange to face a complex society

BEIRUT: A local youth-focused NGO has partnered with a Dutch organization to facilitate Lebanese-Dutch youth conversations and cultural awareness through film. The international exchange, started by Unite Lebanon Youth Project and Dutch NGO Open Roads Media, also aims to spark introspection, driving Lebanese youth to face the complexities within their own society.

The goal of the initiative, titled “The Virtual Dinner Guest Project,” is to bring together two groups of young people with varied backgrounds and from different countries, to engage in cross-cultural discussion. Its mission is to break down stereotypes, while confronting issues within their respective societies before presenting these to others.

“This [project] looks like it focuses on international connection, but 80 percent of the work is done independently in the respective communities,” Eric Maddox, director of Open Roads Media, told The Daily Star. “I want people in Lebanon to be interacting with each other. With its sectarian history, it’s just as important to support inter-community engagement.”

Ten days ago, a group of master’s students from the University of Amsterdam and university students in Beirut met for the first time virtually. They will now work to develop cultural exchange through film.

“There are a lot of facile media narratives out there that can have very destructive consequences when they start to inform policy and how everyday citizens allow their voices to be used,” Maddox added. “So my view is that we should not only be creating more opportunities for direct engagement, but also collaborative production.”

“The experience is a bonding one. It’s kind of awkward when they first meet,” Nicole Eid Abuhaydar, director of ULYP admitted. “[But] they have to break these social barriers and also gain trust from one another to successfully [execute] the project.”

After meeting one another, each team wrote several questions for their counterparts, to be answered through a short film. While participants are responsible for creating and curating footage, Open Roads Media will facilitate both groups, giving them the necessary tools to create a meaningful film.

“The Dutch side gave us a few questions, and we’ve been running around Lebanon for the last few days answering them,” Maddox, who is working with the Lebanese team on the ground, explained. “We don’t want to restrict our answers to just Beirut. We went down to Tyre, the Bekaa Valley, Shatila [Palestinian refugee] camp ... trying to get a broad cross-section of Lebanon.”

The Beirut team was asked particularly about refugees in Lebanon and to find out how the refugee community has changed over the years.

This is not Open Roads Media’s first project. Eric Maddox has facilitated several cross-cultural dialogues around the world, including in India, Brazil, England, Gaza, the U.S. and Egypt.

“I’m not necessarily so interested in connecting Switzerland to Sweden, although that might be a fruitful discussion; there are more critical points of contact that need to be made,” he explained, when discussing where he chooses to work.

“I find myself traveling frequently to the Middle East and North Africa, typically connecting them to Western countries.”

For ULYP, “The Virtual Dinner Guest Project” is an avenue to reinvigorate the youth of Lebanon and give them the chance to explore their potential. “[The youth] are half our present, and all our future. They are our future moms, dads, politicians, doctors, artists and engineers. We need to prepare them, show them the world is much bigger than their home or religion,” Abuhaydar said.

“We’re merely giving them the tools that our society has not.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 15, 2016, on page 3.

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