After a year, Yara from Lebanon reflects back on the 2019 facilitators training in Beirut that hosted ex-combatant women from Fighters for Peace in Lebanon and peacebuilders from Syria.
“After the training we all became friends, and we continue to heal and move towards becoming peace makers together.”
I used to volunteer for Fighters for Peace (FFP), a Lebanese non-governmental organisation founded by Lebanese Civil War ex-combatants. The organisation was formed in 2013 and they work with youth and civil society activists including ex-combatants who had been active in the civil war. The vision is centred around reconciliation and lasting peace in Lebanon. After volunteering for 5 years, I spent two years working with FFP as an administrative and project assistant. My role was to help coordinate a small youth committee that worked alongside the ex-combatant group.
In 2019 FFP and Creators of Peace (CoP) Lebanon hosted a facilitators training in Beirut. The gathering brought together ex-combatant Lebanese women from FFP and women peacebuilders from Syria. I was invited to participate as I had been part of the youth initiative at FFP. The Lebanese ex-combatants had gone through a transformation to become advocates for peace and the Syrian group of women were coming with fresh emotional experiences because they were still in the middle of a conflict. The Lebanese women had experienced conflict 30 years ago, so it was a dynamic meeting of the two groups. It was powerful to hear the Lebanese women share their experiences and their personal journeys of transformation after the war in Lebanon - this openness really impacted me. I think it also impacted the peace builders from Syria.
We had women from a mixture of ages at the gathering - young, single, married and women in their 50s. It turned out to be an intergenerational gathering. The idea of bringing generations together is an important part of our work in Lebanon. I think peacemaking is important between generations because women who have witnessed a war or witnessed a conflict can pass on their stories of love and hate to the next generation.
I really enjoyed listening and engaging with the women during the sessions. I am used to helping and being part of events, but this session was different because it just focused on women. It was a very special experience and I learnt a lot about preparing a space that can help women from conservative societies open up and share their voices. It was rewarding to see women freely share their intense experiences and personal stories. I was enlightened by the stories. There were some challenging times during the sessions - from observing I learnt how the group was able to work through these and come out the other side. It was inspiring to see women from Lebanon and Syria, of different ages and backgrounds begin to build bridges to each other.
The women understood that they were on a path of learning and that it would continue when they returned to their daily routines. I felt that I was on that journey myself - I really felt like I was part of the group. There were a lot of things I did not expect. I wasn't born during the war and I had no experience of it, so I valued being in a room with women who had experienced war.
I also learnt that there are lots of differences across Syrian communities - they can be cultural or religious. The women from Damascus for example have practices that were very different from the women that came from other areas of Syria. Those differences need to be understood in the peace process as they can cause misinterpretations, conflict and judgements. I would never have known about these regional differences if I had not been part of the session. The women were courageous to openly share with everyone.
After the training we became friends and we continue to heal and move towards becoming peace makers together. We have already shared several visits. I went with one of the ex-combatant women from Lebanon and visited some of the Creators of Peace women in Damascus in Syria. Some of the Syrian women also plan to come to visit us. We regularly keep in touch - we have a WhatsApp group and share inspiring messages.
'I realised that peace cannot be granted, it has to be worked on. We have to realise that we have to start from ourselves and then the family in order to reach stability. We are all the daughters and sons of this earth, so we have to live and build peace. It can’t be from one point of view, it has to include all points of views. From my experience with my Syrian sisters through the meetings and discussions, I found we have a lot of similarities in our experience of pain in wars. We have to cooperate with each other in order to build a safe society under the umbrella of humanity.'