Training for teachers in Beirut on Dealing with the Past

On 31 March – 2 April 2017, forumZFD held the first part of a training series for teachers and other professionals working in the field of education in Beirut. During the training, participants are introduced to methods for non-violent communication, self-reflection and learning about each other’s views about the Lebanese civil war. The training is part of the forumZFD's Memory of the War project within the programme area Dealing with the Past. A group of about 20 participants, both Lebanese and Syrian, from various schools as well as NGOs in the Beirut area, attend the training. The training consists altogether of three weekends and is part of a series of similar trainings in various places in Lebanon.

Creating a safe space to share different views

“In the trainings, we give the participants time to think about themselves and events that happened in their lives”, says Hassan Salha, one of the trainers and a member of forumZFD’s capacity building team. “We show people a different, non-violent way of communication. When teachers choose to change their own attitudes and behavior, they can also change their way of teaching and provide students with a chance to change.”

In his view, the most difficult aspect of the training is creating a space where the participants feel safe to express their views and where there is a sense of equality among participants. “To me, my work as a trainer is successful when the participants freely express their views and listen to each other.”

Methods

The trainers use exercises from two manuals developed by forumZFD: The handbook Memory of the War comprises exercises that can be used to stimulate conversations about the Lebanese civil war and people’s different perspectives on it. The training manual An Eye not for an Eye contains exercises to promote non-violent behavior and attitudes among students. The participants of the training try out the different exercises and have time to reflect on the content and used methods. The basic idea is that it is important to know one’s own identity and narratives of the past, before teaching the topic to others.

One of the methods used to create awareness about one’s own identity is asking the participants to produce a collage with pictures from different magazines, showing both individual aspects of their identity and aspects that are influenced by society. Participants highlighted in their collages, among others, how their family background or the fact of being Lebanese contributes to their identity.  

Getting to know other people’s perspectives

The participants come from different age groups. “The subject of this training is important. I have experienced the war myself”, says Ibtisan Al-Awar, director of a secondary school in an area where mainly Druze people live. “I am interested in getting to know the perspectives of other people on the war.” Similarly, Nizar Bou Fakhreddine a math teacher from the same school comments: “I experienced the last ten years of the civil war myself and I suffered a lot from the bombing. Yet, I have no hatred for the other side and I also work with people from other groups; I want to listen to the perspectives of the other side.”

Ibtisan Al-Awar explains how the methods she gets to know in the training can be useful at school: “All our pupils are from one village, which is rather traditional. With regard to the past, the message they get is that the other side was the enemy. In this area, there were a lot of conflicts between Christians and Druze. I hope our students will go out of the village in the future and meet people from other cultures and traditions. The exercises we learn in the training can help them when faced with other opinions.”

“The students at our school are too young to have experienced the civil war themselves”, adds Nizar Bou Fakhreddine. “Yet, they hear bad stories from their parents. Different perspectives on the past may lead to conflicts if we do not teach students how to deal with them.” However, he also has some doubts: “I wonder whether students are mature enough for this topic or it is something that should rather be taught at university.”