Lebanon: Using Communtiy Dialogue to Foster
While the National Reconciliation agreement signed in 1989 paved the way for the return of refugees to their homes, the political agreement did not address the rebuilding of broken relationships at the community level. National and international non-governmental organizations have addressed this problem through dialogue programs that allow community members to talk through important issues as well as training programs to encourage non-violent conflict resolution.
Dialogue as community building
In 1999, the Washington, D.C. based Institute of World Affairs (IWA) launched a community building project in the Mt. Lebanon region, near Beirut. The purpose of the project is to deal with the emotions and memories left from the war that keep some refugees from returning and the communities from moving forward. Dialogue and dispute resolution training are the main tools.
The four parts of the project are
Intra-community dialogue: a process to work through a religious group’s internal conflicts and issues of reconciliation before meeting with the other.
Community Meetings: a process to foster communication between groups in order to build trust and allow input from everyone in dealing with local problems.
Community Relations Boards: a body designed to encourage tolerance, identify and deal with incipient conflicts, advise local governments on interethnic issues, implement alternative dispute resolution at the local level, and maintain information on peaceful conflict resolution.
Training: programs focusing on local needs, traditions, and practices and alternative dispute resolution strategies for community relations board members.
Project achievements include:
Facilitation of dialogue sessions between local and national leaders on issues of displaced Christians, disposition of land with many claimants, and local economic development.
Training the young people of the village of Salima in conflict resolution techniques to facilitate on-going inter-communal meetings.
Informal dialogue in the villages of Breeh and Kfamatta leading to a closer agreement on the requirements for reconciliation.
Creation of “safe space” for the expression of grievances.
Breaking a 20-year silence through numerous public expressions of regret for the events of the past and declarations of support for reconciliation .
Similar work throughout the country
The need to train children at an early age to resolve disagreements peacefully is addressed by the Lebanese Conflict Resolution Network (LCRN). Its Youth Development Program uses non-formal educational settings to educate young people in conflict resolution and, in turn, allow them to teach others. The strategy includes camp programs creating dialogue between youth from different communities.
Other efforts by the LCRN include combining forces with the Ministry of the Displaced to sponsor reconciliation meetings between Christian and Druze residents in eight different villages. A 1999 workshop on “collaborative problem solving and reconciliation” for young people from two mountain villages included dialogue and communication skills, empathy training, and a facilitated dialogue on a joint program of action between the villages.
Each program uses encounter and dialogue to foster the understanding that leads to reconciliation. In such a conflict, where religion fueled and continues to fuel much of the disagreement, this creation of a safe space to express emotion opens the door to healing and rebuilding community.
Resources used for this article.
Institute of World Affairs. “Community Building in Post-War Lebanon: A
Project to Enhance Tolerance and Civic Identity.”
By Lynette Parker