Tuesday was another full day for the Back to Roots crew. Our first stop was the American University of Beirut (AUB), which will be celebrating it’s 150th anniversary next year. This university is obviously American, and is based on the American educational system. The school is regarded as the best university in the Middle East. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing tour guide, Noura, who is currently studying nutrition and food sciences. Noura took us around the entire campus, which is absolutely gorgeous. I really enjoyed being at the university as you could really feel the openness, acceptance, and free thought that flowed through the students, faculty, and campus of the school. Seeing students of all creeds walking around, conversing, and enjoying each others company brought a warm feeling to my heart, and reminded me that it is possible for people of all backgrounds to find a way to live together peacefully.
One interesting fact about the university, that I actually was well aware of before I arrived, is that they have a large population of cats. If you know me, you know how excited I was to arrive and see the cats of AUB. The university received a large donation in the past to protect its’ cats, by vaccinating and spaying them, as well as providing food and shelter for the cats. The cats are all over campus and live in harmony with the students.
I was also very excited to see recycling happening on the AUB campus, this was one of the first places I witnessed recycling in Lebanon, however stay tuned, as we will be visiting a recycling plant on our trip.
After our time at AUB, we grabbed lunch in Hamra. It was fun walking through this busy area of the city on a Tuesday during the day. Traffic was bumper to bumper, with people walking everywhere. Horns were honking, people were talking, and it was just another day in busy Beirut. Driving around in traffic was just like any other big city, slow, but from the window I was able to see some famous landmarks, which we will be spending more time at in the coming weeks.
Our first lecture of the day came from by far one of the most amazing people I have ever had the opportunity to meet. Her name is Dr. May Chidiac, and she is a former television broadcaster in Lebanon. She is known for being very outspoken, and is an advocate for free media. On September 25, 2005 Dr. Chidiac survived an assassination attempt on her life. She lost her left leg and arm, as well as hearing in her left ear. Dr. Chidiac is an incredibly inspiring woman and I highly recommend this video on YouTube to learn more about her. She refused to be silenced by the people who tried to take her life, and took it upon herself to be the voice of her colleagues who have been killed, and thought if she didn’t fight back and return to journalism and activism that all of her sacrifices would have been for nothing. I left our meeting with a feeling of pride, and a better sense of how difficult it can be to be Lebanese. “I refuse to sacrifice my sacrifices.” – Dr. May Chidiac
After our meeting with Dr. Chidiac and hearing more about her foundation for free connected minds, we headed to meet with an NGO in Beirut called the Nawaya Network. This was another totally inspiring group that is connecting underprivleged young people in Lebanon who have specific skills or talents and matching them up with mentors to help them resist drugs, violence, and other obstacles that might prevent them from reaching their goals. Nawaya is an online platform that showcases these children and allows people to donate time or money to help however you can. A great example of the Nawaya Network in action is the story of Reine, a young girl who loves ballet from Lebanon. This short video shares the story of how Reine was flown to New York City to take professional ballet lessons, see a show on Broadway, and leave her home country for the first time in her life. It is so heart warming to see groups like this in action in Lebanon and anywhere in the world. They truly are changing lives not only for the children, but for the mentors who work with them as well.
Our last event of the day, once we made it back to Harissa, was hearing about some of the major social issues that are challenging Lebanon today. These issues are many, and are complicated with the many different religious sects that exist in Lebanon. Lebanon has a long history with religion and these religious rules, whether they be Christian or Muslim, are very much a part of the law in the country. Last year an anti domestic violence law was passed in Lebanon, which hopes to be a major step forward to help stop violence against women and children. We will be meeting with a group who has studied this topic in much more depth soon, I am eager to hear how this law is working. There are plenty of social issues in Lebanon, such as the lack of civil marriage, as well as being forced to claim a religion, or face unwanted consequences if not. Social problems are not necessarily unique to Lebanon, however it is important to learn and study these issues so we can continue to make steps forward to a better future for all.
I’ve gotta get to bed, another long, exciting, action packed day is ahead of us for tomorrow. Good night! Tsbah Alkheir!