This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.  

There is a round metal tray surrounded by four children and their parents. In it, there are plates filled with instant noodles, hummus, lebne, olives and pickled eggplant. I look left and there is a silver tea pot. I look right and my eyes catch a plastic bag of pita bread.

The tray is put on an unfinished concrete floor covered with a bunch of heavy winter blankets. The brick walls are partially covered with bedding sheets, while heavy winter clothes are hanging on a water pipe.

I lift my head up. I see a light bulb hanging from an unfinished cement ceiling. When I look back down, I see a toddler approaching me trying to poke my eyes, until I realize that I am not actually there and she is only trying to poke the 360 camera!

I pulled the headphones off my ears and unfastened the headset from my face. I had been immersed in another ‘reality,’ a virtual one. It was of Syrian refugees Ammouna and Fayad Selloum and their four young children in their makeshift home in Beirut, Lebanon. I ‘visited’ them through a virtual reality film produced by the World Bank to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees and their host communities.

Many people think that virtual reality will isolate us from the reality we live in, but I beg to differ. Virtual reality brings us closer to the human condition. It helps us understand and relate to each other in ways we never imagined before. Consequently, it allows us to extend our hands and help!

This, of course, is why development organizations, such as the World Bank, are now producing films in VR/360 format. The significance of these films is their eerie ability to trigger empathy in viewers.
 © March Lebanon
This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.  

Aristotle once said “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference,” and what a difference a group of young Lebanese men and women are making to advocate for peace to make a difference!

Their ages range between 16 to 25 years old. They are poor and unemployed. They once fought each other, literally, in their sectarian-divided Lebanese city of Tripoli. Sunni residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods fought each other repeatedly.

But at the beginning of 2015, the government imposed a ceasefire that put an end to the endless rounds of fierce clashes and restored calm in the city.

And that’s when a Lebanese non-profit organization promoting peace through art went there looking for a different kind of recruitment: one of peace. March brought the youth together to perform in a play!

This post was originally published on the World Bank Voices blog.

On a chilly October day in 2015, 24-year-old Rami Anis boarded a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea in Turkey. His destination was Europe and his goal was a better life away from war and hardship.

Looking at the people around him on the boat, he was horrified. They were children, men, and women. The fact that they might not make it never escaped his mind, even though he is a professional swimmer.

“Because with the sea, you can’t joke,” said the Syrian refugee.

But on Aug. 11, Rami will not be worried about swimming in the sea. He, instead, will be swimming at the Olympics. He made it safely to Belgium after days of heart-wrenching journey, from Istanbul to Izmir to Greece before setting off a trek through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and eventually Belgium.

Rami will be competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team — the first of its kind — and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the opening ceremony.


This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.  

At first she looks like any bride: wearing a white wedding dress with her face covered with the wedding veil and carrying a bridal bouquet. Except that she is no ordinary bride. She is being sold.

As she removes her veil from her face, her forehead appears marked with a barcode. Her left eye is badly bruised and a big scratch on her cheek is as red as a war wound.

The girl in the music video “Brides for Sale” is portrayed by Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghan teen rapper who sings in the video about the ordeal many girls in Afghanistan go through when are sold by their families to marry at an early age in return of money.

But why is she singing about this issue?



This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.  

It’s Ramadan and the Arabic TV channels are festooned with shows that vary from recurring popular soap operas, cooking and competition shows — but one has become the talk of the town.

Al Sadma, or The Shock, the Arabic version of the popular American show What Would You Do, is a reality TV prank show. But it’s not like many other tasteless reality shows that invoke fright and even terror, it is a show that invokes morality and examines humanity.


© Alex Yosifov/Flickr Creative Commons

This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.  

The cigarette puffs surrounded the 18-month-old boy as he stood next to his chain-smoking grandparents in the living room, while a 3-year-old girl fetched a can of Pepsi-Cola from the fridge in the kitchen. Just across in the dining area, a 7-month-old boy was being fed a creamy, sugary, chocolate cake, while a bunch of other kids were playing “house” in the front yard by actually eating unlimited number of chocolate bars, cake, and chips while drinking soda.

I could not believe my eyes. Observing these behaviors as a parent myself, it seemed like I was watching the slow death and diseases haunting these children for the rest of their lives.

It has always been like this, but I had never noticed it until I moved out of Iraq and became a parent. I grew up in a place where the unhealthy lifestyle was not a major concern. There are many other, more pressing concerns people there tend to worry about — and rightfully so — than what they eat and drink.

However, what people in my war-torn home country may not realize is that it’s not only car bombs that can kill them. Cigarettes, junk food, and soda can too.