In January of this year, Initiatives of Change International hosted a consultation at Asia Plateau, the IofC conference centre in India. It brought together 81 people from 37 countries, all carrying responsibility for some aspect of the work of Initiatives of Change. It was described as a ‘Sangam’, a Hindi word meaning a place where rivers meet. This expressed its aim – to bring together Initiatives of Change across the world in all its diversity and combine our forces better to nourish the people and concerns with which we are involved.
The discussions gave participants an opportunity to hear about IofC work in many countries. Over the coming weeks we would like to share three accounts we heard, from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. This week we hear from our team working in Lebanon!
Ramez Salame: Initiatives of Change started in Lebanon almost 40 years ago with the aim of helping change lives. The challenges we face are daunting, but what motivates us is not so much the needs in front of us but the small voice inside us.
Without the help we have received through the years from colleagues outside Lebanon we would never have become what we are today. The programmes at Asia Plateau and the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme are vital in introducing Lebanese youth to IofC and offering adequate training. The international dimension of our fellowship is a precious element to be cherished.
Lebanon is small but around us we have countries at war. This brings deep mistrust. We have initiated carefully designed dialogue meetings to overcome the divides: the Christian-Muslim divide, the Palestinian-Lebanese divide and, more recently, the Sunni-Shia divide. These meetings have been inspiring, and several participants have been led to create their own movements for reconciliation and peace.
A striking example is Assaad, a former senior officer in a Christian militia during our 15-year civil war, and his wife Marie. Marie, together with a distinguished Muslim woman, has created a movement, Linaltaki, which means ‘Let us meet’. Assaad has initiated a group called Fighters for Peace including many ex-fighters from the civil war. Among them is an ex-commander in a Lebanese Muslim militia. Astonishingly, he has succeeded over the past two or three years in securing critical humanitarian arrangements in war-torn Syria, in Iraq and even in Yemen. The international media have reported these arrangements, but no one knows who made them possible.
Roweida Saleh: All of our work is volunteer-based. Many of us have made IofC our daily mission in our communities, in the office, the classroom, at the university. Whenever time and resources allow, we go to schools and other educational institutions to give training in IofC topics. We focus on the process rather than the outcome because we believe that communicating the values of IofC without living them would empty the work of its heart and soul. We collaborate with other active bodies in Lebanon. We have created an IofC house as a centre especially for young people. They arrange their own meetings and their own events, and we try to provide mentorship. Everybody is encouraged to take initiative, and this means many young people flock around the Lebanese team.