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Summer school students learn how to keep conflict at bay

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Two students cooperate during a trust-building activity.

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Participants engage in active listening and group discussion.

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On the last day, students show how they were united despite their differences.

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Two participants exchange certificates during the closing ceremony.

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IPJE Director Irma-Kaarina Ghosn speaks at the opening ceremony.

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Participants play an unusual card game that teaches the challenges of lack of communication.

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A group photo of participants, organizers, and facilitators during the closing ceremony.

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September 15, 2008—

Interactive theater, group discussions, tricky card games, documentary films, trust-building exercises, and project presentations were some of the activities students from various Lebanese universities engaged in last month to learn about teamwork, dialogue and respect for diversity.

For ten days, the students lived together on the Byblos campus and took part in the all-expenses-paid fourth annual Summer School for Emerging Leaders on Conflict Prevention and Transformation, organized by the Institute for Peace and Justice Education.

Through the entertainment-cum-education program, the 27 students learned the nature, sources, and types of conflict as well as the various theoretical models for analyzing conflict. They explored the various third sides—bridge builder, provider, teacher, peacekeeper, equalizer—at play in transforming discord.

Participants learned to listen by means of small-group discussions on hot topics such as abortion, homosexuality, honor killing, sectarianism. The “listener” chose a subject and stated his opinion in one sentence; the “advocate” expressed the opposing view; and the “coach” made sure that the listener remained objective and did not engage in a debate.

The students enacted scenes based on disputes they had personally experienced. Some chose to present a university election clash scene, while others a night-club fight. Hannah Reich, interactive theater facilitator, said, “This method works with conflicts within a social context, in which a person is oppressed by others, faces an injustice or is in an unfair situation where he or she feels there is no way out.”

An unusual card game, the “Barnga Culture Rummy,” was also part of the program. Each table had different rules, and verbal or written communication was forbidden. At the end of each round, the highest and lowest scorers switched tables. “The game was frustrating because each player was trying to play by his rules and the lack of communication made it hard to convince the other that he was wrong,” said Lebanese University student Jessica Bou Tanios.

Participants also saw a film, Milagro, based on a real community conflict over water rights in New Mexico. Then, they planned and presented an intervention for the dispute.

As a final project, the groups proposed ways to tackle various challenges they have observed such as violence in schools, the role of the media in shaping public opinion, and university students’ rights. The program director and other conflict-resolution professionals provided feedback.

The event concluded with the distribution of certificates and the exchange of souvenir stones on which the students had engraved peace-related expressions.

The program, funded by UNDP and the Mennonite Central Committee, sought to teach young people to have “an open mind[,]… deconstruct walls and leave with a faith of change,” according to IPJE Director Irma-Kaarina Ghosn at the opening ceremony.


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