(Beirut, Lebanon) – International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) hosted 14 youth camps throughout Lebanon, promoting a culture of tolerance between youth and encouraging them to take an active role in improving their communities.
One 18-year-old who participated in a Baalbek camp, is already anxious to start a development organization where people from all religions can work together to help Lebanon’s rural areas. “The first day, we were strangers meeting for the first time,” he says, “but I was relieved to find out that although we came from various backgrounds there was nothing standing in the way of our unity.”
Such youth camps serve an important role in Lebanon, a country with a long history of sectarian conflict and whose parliament recognizes 18 different religious and ethnic sects. The camps were implemented by IOCC in partnership with the University of Balamand and the Lebanese Ministry of Education.
More than 400 teenagers participated in 14 four-day camps that featured community service projects and lectures on strategic planning and citizenship. Participants interviewed residents to learn about their community’s needs and then went to work cleaning streets, planting trees, and painting school playgrounds. They also learned how to write a proposal, monitor their projects and write an evaluation of what was accomplished.
Wala, 19-years-old, learned that one can better identify and prioritize a community’s needs with the participation of that community. “Those are skills that we’ll use in our life and not only for summer camp,” says Wala. She adds that the most interesting aspects of summer camp were the time spent getting introduced to the region, making direct contact with villagers and listening to their problems and stories.
IOCC’s youth camps are part of its $5 million program funded by the U.S. government to improve the learning environment and academic performance of 71,000 public school students in 213 schools throughout Lebanon.