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Community Activism in Lebanon during COVID-19

How local activists in Tripoli engaged in the Future Together Now II project adapted to the pandemic and supported their community

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted countries around the globe, it hit Lebanon in an already volatile state. In October 2019, a nation-wide protest movement emerged in reaction to a deteriorating economic and political situation. Lebanese across all sectarian, class and gender divides took to the streets to call for political change. Since March 2020, the society had to additionally face the effects of a worldwide pandemic. This article explains how SHIFT, a local partner organisation of forumZFD Lebanon, supports their community during these volatile times.

SHIFT COVID-19 initiative
© SHiFT/Shadda Media Lab

The Lebanese non-governmental organisation SHIFT is based in Tripoli and a partner of forumZFD Lebanon in the Future Together Now (FTN) II project, as part of the Community Mobilising Programme, which was launched in 2017 and will be completed this summer. The project works towards improving relationships within and between different neighbourhoods in the Beqaa Valley (rural context) and in Tripoli. It aims at supporting the Lebanese civil society to be able to establish inclusive structures for conflict transformation, community development and relationship-building through Community Mobilising. Three Community Activists (CAs) of SHIFT were trained on topics such as conflict transformation, project management, dialogue and mediation as well as on personal and community development. Mentored by forumZFD, they established a working group, which brings together members from the two conflicting areas of Qobbeh and Jabal Mohsen. 

Two CAs (Moussa Khalouf and Abir Omar) explained during an informal interview what impact the FTN II project had on them and their activism: 

"Our personal capacities were greatly developed through the FTN II project and the training and regular follow-up by the mentor. We have changed greatly on a personal level and were able to overcome our memories of the war. We learned to support [the community] in transforming conflicts, and to communicate more non-violently within our communities. We used to have a lot of ideas but our actions were not effective. Through the regular follow up of the forumZFD team and the mentors, we learned how to be more efficient in our initiatives, as well as how to transfer the learned skills to the working groups to implement further initiatives."

© SHiFT/Shadda Media Lab

The CAs from SHIFT continued to tell us: “Given our work in the area and our continuous coordination with the working group, we became more aware of the economic and social needs of the community.” For the conflicting neighbourhoods in Tripoli, the pandemic constitutes a big threat as they are already struggling to meet basic needs like food, shelter and medical services. Protecting against an aggressive virus becomes difficult in light of the severe economic situation many members of the community are in. When the pandemic hit them, the CAs communicated with the working group to collectively come up with strategies to help local families to better cope with the situation. Together, they developed an initiative to distribute disinfectants and masks in the area. To raise awareness for the virus, its symptoms and protection mechanisms, the CAs also developed flyers and posters, which they distributed in public spaces. The CAs explained that the families highly welcomed their initiative, which “fulfilled a crucial need and minimised the risks they and their children might be exposed to”. 

 

The CAs elaborated that their general aim with different initiatives is to “enhance the work of the working group”. They want to achieve this by “strengthening their communal responsibility and the communities’ trust in them”. The final goal of their efforts is to reduce conflicts “between the two areas [the Sunni neighbourhood of Qobbeh and the Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen] and encourage coexistence so that they may set an example for other regions”. Previous and current initiatives built trust between the working group and the community as well with other local organisations. These initiatives “reinforced social cohesion and introduced basic peacebuilding concepts”. The previously conflicting neighbourhoods started to realise that violence and intercommunal conflicts primarily hurt themselves. 

For the future, the CAs “hope to stay together in order to further contribute to transforming the conflicts in the community and changing negative perspectives”. They would like to transform the prevalent stereotypes and prejudgments as well as reinforce constructive thinking. They aim to “gain more skills in conflict transformation and non-violent communication”. Moreover, they would like to learn more on “how to deal with the memory of war in a constructive way and how to transfer the acquired knowledge onto the working groups in the area”. The three activists envision a Lebanese society without hatred, prejudgements and sectarian divisions. They highlighted in a final comment that “the only solution is to live together in peace”.

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