The United Nations is supporting a journey to reconciliation, healing, and peacebuilding in Lebanon


Story originally published on UN Women Lebanon‘s website.

Lebanon has witnessed since the civil war (1975-1990) a series of conflicts that fueled tensions. This violent past has gone undealt with. To address the wounds of violence in Lebanon, a UN-supported program entitled "Dealing with the Past: Memory for the Future" works on fostering cross-community dialogue and peace and seeks to promote and support reconciliation, re-establishing dignity for victims of war as well as restoring peace and preventing conflicts.

This initiative, a collaborative effort between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) is supporting civil society, individuals, and institutions in their efforts to seek the truth, foster collective remembrance and, ultimately, move towards reconciliation around the legacy of the Lebanese Civil War.

The driving force behind this program is the belief that healing can only begin when the community acknowledges its past, embraces its history, and collectively strives for reconciliation. By focusing on retellings of Lebanon’s history from different perspectives and dialogue among communities, UN Lebanon through UNDP and UN Women is helping pave the way for a lasting peace.

A Leap in History Teaching

In the context of this program supported by the Swiss Embassy to Lebanon and Syria and the UN peacebuilding fund, UNDP partnered with the Lebanese Association for History (LAH) among other partnerships and collaborations. This partnership has yielded several significant outcomes. It has supported CERD by incorporating strategies and methodologies that contribute to Dealing with the Past. It has played a crucial role in enhancing teachers' capacities to foster historical thinking and employ historical methodologies that promote multi-perspectivity, gender sensitivity, and the handling of multiple narratives with a focus on conflict-sensitive communication. It has reinforced the sense of community among history educators from diverse backgrounds across the country, facilitating dialogue among them. It has led to the formation of a team of trainers, addressing a significant shortage of history teaching trainers, with 34 individuals undergoing intensive training. Lastly, it has supported in creation of digital resources and has been instrumental in shifting towards a multi-narrative approach based on source analysis, moving away from a simplified single-narrative approach.

For the LAH president Dr. Amine Elias, “We have prepared an infrastructure for history teaching. We made a leap from traditional history teaching where a teacher explains, and students memorize to creating an engaging class where participants analyze and debate facts to produce their own historical narratives that are inclusive and take into consideration all views.”

“We have empowered trainers to train teachers in private or public sectors across Lebanon on new techniques and ways of teaching history to transmit the idea that history connects the past with the present,” Elias continues.

He emphasizes the importance of having a new history curriculum for schools in Lebanon; one that is flexible and comprehensive and takes into account the diversity of the Lebanese society.

One teacher, Jihane Francis, participated in the Training of Trainers program facilitated by LAH. Jihane, a teacher and coordinator at Brummana High School, has embraced the program’s educational approach and used the skills she acquired, “I introduced these approaches with my students, I focused on building dialogue and critical thinking. When we succeed in training students to listen to each other and acknowledge the existence of multiple perspectives and to respect each other's opinions, we would be promoting a culture of non-violent communication among them.” For her, the new approaches are contributing to profound transformations in students' perspectives on the past, “Students from different backgrounds are openly engaging in conversations about the past. One student told me: I would never consider carrying a weapon!”, Jihane says. Jihane describes this journey as building a bridge between the past and the future for this young generation who did not experience the war.

The trainings which Jihane attended has empowered her on a personal level. “The trainings sharpened my ability to express myself and accept people from different backgrounds,” she says.

Participants gathered around table thinking and writing with trainer in the background
TOT Workshop on new approaches to teaching history. Donor: Swiss Embassy to Lebanon and Syria. April 2023, UNDP Lebanon

Tolerance Key to peace

In the context of this program supported by the government of Norway and the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UN Women in partnership with the Lebanese Feminist Organization KAFA, has organized a series of dialogues as part of the Program engaging women from different backgrounds and areas of Lebanon.

An ex-fighter from Lebanon’s civil war, Golda Abu Naoum is one of the participants in a series of dialogues undertaken in the context of the program. She shares her remarkable journey towards reconciliation. “We came to the dialogue sessions, each with her own mindset and set of beliefs. When we exchanged opinions and shared our experiences, we found a path to healing by accepting and better dealing with our past. After acceptance came the conclusion that empathy, the ability to understand what other people feel and see things from their perspective, is key to achieving peace.”

These dialogues did not only foster reconciliation. Participants felt responsible for promoting this culture of peacebuilding. “I have the obligation to raise awareness on reconciliation among young generations in my community,” Golda says.

Women participants sitting in a circle
A group of participants during a dialogue session. Photo: ©KAFA/UN Women

Women agents of change

Jennifer Bou Nasr is a young university student with high aspirations for achieving a peaceful future. She joined the dialogue sessions as a trainee and then became a dialogue facilitator. Jennifer emphasized the power of storytelling and dialogues in fostering collective recovery for women participating, "By sharing experiences, we found common ground. We realized that we share the same wounds {of violence} and it's only by acknowledging this pain that we can hopefully heal," Jennifer says. Throughout the dialogue process, women participants were supported to tell stories that triggered common emotions, because emotions are universal, and they have the potential to build empathy and trust amongst participants.

In the context of the open dialogues, women shared their own experiences of the conflict: “When we were exchanging views and perspectives {on what we have been through}, we realized that women were not only the victims of war, but they are also agents of change within their communities. Women not only protected their loved ones they also helped in promoting peace” Jennifer says.

The series of dialogues has helped these women acquire and develop peacebuilding skills, “I gained self-confidence, and I am now able to lead dialogues between other community members on peacebuilding and non-violent speech,” Jennifer says.

As the Dealing with the Past: Memory for the Future program continues its initiatives, it illuminates the path toward reconciliation, acceptance, and ultimately peace. It empowers individuals and institutions to embrace their past, accept each other, and collectively shape a brighter peaceful future for Lebanon.