|© March Lebanon|
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!
The group organized auditions for more than 100 youth from the two neighborhoods, 16 of them were selected, eight from each side. The idea was simple: write and produce a comedy play based on their lives, performed by those would-be actors all over Lebanon. The project brought them together and turned them from war actors to theater actors.
Titled “Love and War on the Rooftop – A Tripolitan Tale,” the play is a story of a theater director from Tripoli who decides to do an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Tripoli style, starring Ali from Jabal Mohsen and Aisha from Bab al-Tabbaneh. In it, Aisha is murdered by her furious brother who discovered that she escaped with Ali to marry him despite the two families’ objection.
Identifying issues to achieve conflict resolution
The project sheds light on the many issues surrounding conflict, beginning with the different reasons behind it and ending with finding a sustainable resolution that eventually led to peace.
“Let us not underestimate the ease with which ordinary people can be turned into [religious] extremists when they live in conditions of injustice, deprivation, drug abuse and hopelessness,” said Lea Baroudi, co-founder of March at a recent screening of a documentary on the project, held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC.
“This is where civil society and the international community at large had the beauty to act, and to act now,” she said. Acting now, she added, includes “creating sustainable jobs for them, pushing them to learn, providing them with social and cultural areas, fighting drug abuse and most importantly giving them a voice, listening to them and guaranteeing their basic rights and treating them like equal citizens.”
To act, we need to look beyond the issue of employment, said Alexandre Marc, the Chief Specialist for Fragility, Conflict and Violence of the World Bank. Employment, he added, is very important but what is “really interesting is when we see very deep programs like this one that deal with these problems that are not really about employment. They are actually about getting a meaning for those people; getting them there.”
We have to take a step back from employment and look more broadly as the project did by asking what sort of issues youth have, he added.
Marc also stressed on the fact that youth is a part of a community. “What you need to do much more effectively is actually to deal with the community.” He said what he found powerful with the program is that it tackled the problems of the community by targeting the community itself, and working with it to solve the issues in the way of the youth.
“It is much more effective to target the community than actually target youth individually,” Marc said.