Letter from the Chairman

Seven years after he left Brussels for establishing the work of R&R on the Syrian border, Friedrich is sharing his experience and his impressions

We are fine at our Peace Centre, in the North of Lebanon. We are fine, but it feels like we are in the eye of a hurricane. For the second week now, about a forth of the Lebanese population went down to the streets to ask for change. And contrary to previous protests, like the garbage crisis in 2015, the demonstrations stretch from Halba in the North to Tyre in the South. All major highways are blocked. Every single village seems to oppose.

The demonstrations have remained peaceful, except for a few cases of vandalism in the first hours. It is amazing to see how all different sects and groups unite in popular anger but also in a popular sense of belonging. Tripoli, the second-biggest city of the country and metropolitan capital of the North, has become an epicentre of the daily gatherings of all religions united, also in explicit solidarity with the over 1 million Syrian refugees in the country.

Picture by Blanche Eid, contrasted with a picture from the beginning of the Civil War on social media.

One picture shared on Facebook reads “The Civil War is Over”. And yes, it seems that the wounds of 15 years of Civil War, followed by 15 years of occupation by the Syrian regime and 15 years of stalemate between the different sects, are starting to heal. It is beautiful to see how protestors dare to challenge even the warlords and profiteers of their own community. “Kullun, ya3ni kullun”, “all means all”, was the reply to the defensive speech of Hezbollah’s leader.

“All have to leave!” All those who have plundered this country while pretending to protect their community. Those who abused their power for their personal gains. Those who nurtured sectarian hate for cementing their power position. All those who turned public utilities, like electricity, water and even the garbage system, into their personal power base for providing jobs to “their boys” and money for their pocket.

The popular uprising is spontaneous. The proposed “WhatsApp tax” to squeeze the poor for complying with international donors’ demands, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But the uprising is about more than just a silly new tax, which was quickly retracted. The uprising is unstructured and leaderless, but it is a beautiful expression of unity and the will to turn a page of a rotten system.

The “National Pact” of Lebanon, which has been dividing up power amongst the major sects of the country since 1943, seems to be released for demolition. The time is ripe for change, for recognising the “Other” as someone equal in rights, despite all differences in belief, culture and ethics. A new consensus is emerging.

Will this (r)evolution be  successful? Or will it end in frustration like so many times before? Or worse even, in a blood bath? Will the Lebanese people be sold, like the Syrians, to the interests of the governing mafia clans and their foreign supporters? Or will freedom and solidarity prevail, beyond all borders?

Only history will answer these questions. But one thing is certain for me: we shall always be on the side of the oppressed and deprived. Without arms and without choosing sides, we shall share the fate of those without rights as much as we can. We shall serve the servants of God and become a seed for justice and peace.

Our mission is to unite and serve different communities around a common cause: the future of the youth. I believe in the power of education and encounter to preserve a traumatised generation from the cycle of hate and revenge. I believe in stretching myself to the limits for being poor amongst the poor.

The mission of Relief & Reconciliation is to remain humble. Those coming from a privileged background shall experience the frustration of the poor, not to be able to do things. But in this deprival, we shall find the strength to create and grow together, instead of making those in need the objects of our “charity”.

At our weekly staff meeting, all Syrian and international volunteers decided to carry on our classes as much as we can. The school-year had barely started and most Syrian students were still not allowed into their classes in public schools. The day they were finally admitted, the schools closed again because of the protests.

Our Lebanese teachers are off duty for saving their country. But the Syrian children we serve don’t have anybody to care for them. Most NGOs have closed and the parents are often too afraid to leave the house. Too often has public unrest turned against the foreigners and the most vulnerable.

We hope that justice and peace will prevail, for Lebanon, for Syria and for the whole Levantine region. But there will be no evolution or revolution without education. Knowledge and critical thinking is the gateway for a better future.

Thank you all for your support! We need help to continue our mission and we are grateful for whatever you can give. Please keep our team in your prayers and thoughts and please join our dream for justice and peace!

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