By Huda Al-Kebsi and Karim Makhoul
When people change, the world changes. This was the idea behind the 10-day residential course – Inside change: creating foundations for action – that took place at Notre Dame University, Lebanon, from 6-15 May. Based on the format of the Foundations for Freedom Visiting Course and the Caux Interns Program, it was the first programme of its kind to be conducted in the MENA region by IofC.
Nine young participants from five Arab countries – Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and Lebanon – learned to pave a path in life, to have a purpose for living and to combine personal change with social, cultural, and political commitments. The faculty for the course also came from a diverse background; Zoryana Borbulevych, from the Ukraine, Professor John Carlisle, from the UK, and Yeon-Yuk Jeong, from Korea.
'The impetus for initiating a course in Lebanon came from the experience of Lebanese interns in Caux, as well as the local IofC team in Lebanon, based on a consensus that there is both a general and specific relevance of the course for young people in Lebanon, and the Middle East in general,' said Dr Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, Chair of the Political Science Department at Notre Dame University, who coordinated the course in cooperation with the Club of International Relations (CIR) at the university.
The training consisted of developing understanding around absolute standards, communication and listening skills, teamwork and project management skills. All of these were accompanied with illustrative exercises, emphasising the importance of collaboration and systems-thinking, and each of the participants was helped in systematically developing their own vision for the future.
Times for reflection were scheduled regularly through the programme, including an opportunity to share and discuss thoughts in smaller groups, as part of exploring the relationship between personal change and societal change – the link between the intimate and the global. 'The idea acquired was that change starts with oneself first and then to the others because the system works through the cooperation of every individual,' said Karim Makhoul, 19, a participant from Lebanon.
Huda Al-Kebsi, 27, a participant from Yemen said that after the course, she has begun to look at any difficulty and ask herself, 'How can I help it change or make it happen? We should think of our lives and how to make it better for ourselves and for others. We only live once and we can't live in the past forever," she said.
Rhea Dagher, 19, a participant from Lebanon found that the training was a very personal one, with the main aim of just being yourself. 'You have to know yourself and listen to yourself in order to change and to act upon that change, because in the end, that’s the only thing you really own; yourself. Neither your car, nor your diploma, not even your family makes you purely just yourself,' she said.
The participants learned to share different perceptions and insights, and built a network of people committed to living by values that generates sustainable and just democracies. Marwen Ben Alaya, 23, from Tunisia, said that he gained new knowledge and skills. 'As the course started, I realized that it would change my outlook to life and the world. It was a unique human experience in which each of the participants had ventured deep into his soul to find answers,' he said.
Over three nights, everyone was given the opportunity to recount their personal journeys. Yeon-Yuk created a chart to help each person explain about their experience in a graphic and objective manner. For Maha Ashour, 26, from Egypt, the training was a chance to share experience with everybody during the course. 'We built a network of people who are willing to start the change inside and around themselves,' Maha said.
The course aimed to encourage personal and collective initiatives that are grounded in an application of personal values and standards. 'We knew how to change attitudes and behaviour to better, how to spread the morals and values which have been lost from our society and which have disappeared nowadays,' said Fatima Mohammed, 27, a participant from Sudan.
The last day was an Open Space activity, which was entirely dedicated to the participants sharing their ideas and discussing further. They developed action plans for projects they will carry forward themselves, continuing work with the help and advice of the facilitators via online communication.
There was also an opportunity for more informal time together. A talent evening on the final night, organised by the participants, gave them the space to express what they had learned during the 10 days. Among the items they presented was a poem that reflected the learnings of the course, accompanied by acoustic guitar.
All in all, a family atmosphere reigned during the programme. Bridges were built across different cultures and religions and the participants felt at ease expressing their ideas freely. The dynamic hasn’t ceased to be, thanks to online reflection times the group continues to share together.
The following was produced by participants of an IofC programme, Inside Change – creating foundations for Action, held in Lebanon, 6-15 May 2011. The composition was put together for a variety evening on the final night of the course, accompanied by acoustic guitar and visual media.
We all want world peace
But we are told it’s just a dream
Look down into yourself, listen to your inner voice and feel at ease.
Your voice will say:
Listen to yourself.
Listen to the other.
Know the other.
Help the other change.
Quiet time is how we start our days;
Silence is one of the ways
To open up your soul
And let it all pour out.
Sharing stories and thoughts settles you down.
You are ready to take a step forward
And to lay it on the ground.
How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror and truly smiled?
How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror and truly saw what your eyes have to say?
How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror and given yourself the strength to give someone else something they need?
How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror and just hugged yourself?
Be honest to yourself so you can honestly smile to others.
Be pure from inside so that others can see the true you.
Let unselfishness be your mirror.
Love yourself so you can lovingly hug the other.
The Golden Rule in all religions:
Treat the other as you want the other to treat you...
And also treat yourself as you want others to treat you...
Do that according to the 4 absolute values.