BEIRUT: “The kids are amazing, they were so happy and they represented Lebanon very well. We are all very proud of them,” said Imad Bazzi, project manager of the Sustainable Democracy Center (SDC). Bazzi was referring to eight Lebanese children, all between the ages of 12 and 14, who were selected to attend the International Forum of Cultures in Monterrey, Mexico, to carry the message that we all should “give peace a chance.”
Drawn from towns and villages all over Lebanon, Charbel, Ghina, Melissa, Samin, Tony, Lynn, Jamela and Rayan, all acted as truly respectable and responsible Lebanese ambassadors to the world at a time when individuals of this caliber are hard to find among their elders in the contemporary Lebanese landscape.
Joined by 10 different countries, including the United States, Brazil and Lebanon, to name a few, the International Forum of Cultures is a global event that occurs every four years connecting cities from all over the world, according to the Forum’s Web site.
onterrey was the location chosen for this occasion to promote thinking and problem solving methods in order to deal with issues of global importance such as peace, education, knowledge, and ecological conservation amongst other topics, it said.
The founder and executive director of SDC, Selim Mouawad, who accompanied the kids on their voyage to Mexico, said the impressive eight were “very well aware of global events and happily engaged in discussion on topics ranging from social justice, cultural diversity and global warming.”
According to the Sustainable Democracy Center’s Web site, it is a nonpartisan, independent non-governmental organization established in September 2002 in Beirut to promote and assist in human development, through raising awareness about democracy, citizenship, and human rights.
The purpose of the center is to educate and empower Lebanese citizens regardless of confessional or geographic affiliation toward a stronger and more democratic, participatory Lebanese society, the Web site said.
The SDC’s goal, according to Bazzi, is to “focus on respecting diversity in Lebanese society and raising political awareness among youth.”
Being from Lebanon, the kids were able to speak on subjects that were a touch more serious and morally significant than perhaps some from the other delegations.
“Since they were representing Lebanon, they used the stories of war to explain the importance of peace,” Mouawad said.
While no doubt a beneficial perspective to the other participating children, Mouawad saw this as a travesty for the Lebanese and indicative of the Lebanese educational system.
We were there while the elections were supposed to be going on here, so the kids were very focused on that,” Mouawad said. “This is one of the problems with the Lebanese education system: Lebanese kids are very smart and very aware of politics but they are also treated in a very serious way. They’re almost not allowed to be kids, to have fun and not be burdened with depressing topics like politics and war.”
“These basic necessities are missing for Lebanese children and that is a direct reflection of our chronically chaotic political situation and how we react. We talk about national heritage a lot in Lebanon, but we never practice it,” he added.
Outside of their more serious discussions, the children also participated in cross cultural activities of a much more age-appropriate quality. They sang songs and shared stories with other youngsters from around the world. They even performed the traditional dabkeh dance for their peers.
But their participation in all the fun and games was predicated on a notion that Mouawad felt is a hallmark of the Lebanese psyche: The seriousness and sense of restraint generally expected from Lebanese children, made it harder for them to open up and enjoy themselves.
But despite their original misgivings, however, the kids quickly took to the forum’s intentions in fine style. Mouawad said that the Lebanese in them revealed itself in how the children interacted. “They were initially reluctant to participate and have fun, because they are nurtured by a very negative culture. We don’t have a culture of joy in Lebanon and it is the best thing for peace.”
“But given a little encouragement, however, it took little time for them to get into the festive spirit and enjoy themselves like children should,” he added.
Mouawad also sees a problem with the media in Lebanon and the shirking of their responsibilities toward the public when the only thing that is ever addressed is about violence, politics or individual politicians. “I was very disappointed with the media in Lebanon. We were looking forward to have them host the kids upon their return to their country but no one showed up.”
“There should be a greater focus on activities like these rather than nonsense politics. We prefer to stay away from politics but the media here will make you pay a price. It’s wrong and also rather inconsiderate,” Mouawad said.
Their arrival into Lebanon, according to the founder, was also marred by cranky general security officers at the airport who were ostensibly more interested in peace and quiet than they were the children’s joy
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