Finishing ceremony for the coordinators of a youth network in Broumana, Lebanon. The photos on the board are from their meetings.
Talks help young Syrians survive the conflict
The war in Syria, which has been under way since 2011, has had devastating consequences. The Sida-supported organisation Mobaderoon works with dialogue as a peace preparation tool. Every week, 1,800 people participate in their talking groups throughout Syria.
In civil war Syria, civil society has an important role in offering an alternative to battles and conflict. Sida-supported Mobaderoon began in 2010, one year before the revolution.
“At the time, we already felt a fragmentation was under way below the surface. We therefore gathered forces to work for social cohesion, but the revolution beat us to it,” says Abir Hajibrahim, one of two founders of the organisation Mobaderoon.
She describes how strong conflicts between regime supporters and opposition supporters flared up, even within most families. It was also tangible in the network of 450 people that Mobaderoon had built up throughout Syria.
“We agreed that we could keep our different political positions, but that we could nonetheless rally around common values of non-violence and of being active citizens who are involved in the Syrian society.”
Many quickly joined the network and when Mobaderoon stopped counting in 2013, 4,000 members had joined. By adapting knowledge and inspiration from other actors to the Syrian context, Mobaderoon then put together an educational plan that was used within the more than 78 group meetings that take place throughout Syria every week. This way, Mobaderoon creates dialogue and networks between different religious and political groups. They also encourage the members to think about how the values can be transferred to concrete action.
“It’s not about arranging workshops, but rather about creating places where people can come, generate ideas and learn. We also encourage the members to create socially active projects that are adapted to their needs.”
Increased understanding between the participants
They have led to fewer tensions and better understanding between the participants, something that also positively affects the area that they are active in. Five new civil society organisations have arisen, as well as more than 200 local social projects. Moreover, Mobaderoon works to make voices heard in the international peace talks. When the Syrian crisis was discussed in Geneva at the beginning of 2017, Mobaderoon was particularly asked to participate as an example of civil society organisations being able to bring together different groupings and work with both sides of a conflict.
“In addition to lifting voices from those who meet inside Syria to a higher level, we also brought back the talks from Geneva to the local groups that also have a right to know what is happening in the international peace talks.”
Sida has provided support to Mobaderoon since 2013, something that according to Abir Hajibrahim has been important to the organisation’s and network’s development.
“The support from Sida has meant a lot since it is long term and focused on dialogue in particular. There has always been an understanding of the difficulties that the conflict entails.
Special strategies for working during the war
Mobaderoon’s network is mainly led by women. Abir says that women are good peacemakers, but it is also linked to many men having left the country or being drawn into the conflict. This has meant that women have gained more responsibility. Mobaderoon tried to keep the male seminar leaders who are at risk of being drawn into the conflicts by paying for them to be able to continue studying since students are exempt from induction into the army. This is one of the organisation’s many strategies for conducting the work during the on-going conflict.
“The first challenge is that the members can be subjected to bombings just on the way to the meeting facility. We also have to take into consideration other security threats. We therefore work a great deal below the radar and never post our name when we conduct activities.”
Many members are also traumatised by experiences from the war. From this knowledge, Mobaderoon’s “safe houses” were born in Broumana, Lebanon – a place where everyone active in the network can come together with their families and spend a brief time.
“It is a calm place in the mountains where we live together. There is water, electricity, Internet and it’s possible to relax and have a break. It’s helped us have the energy to do the work we are doing.”
Teach citizens democracy
Once the war ends, Abir Hajibrahim believes that Mobaderoon will continue to play a role for social cohesion and for providing information on the importance of human rights, democracy and responsible social governance.
“The question of what it means to live in a democratic country is of central importance. We work with election processes at a local level as a way of preparing people for their voices to play a role and that they do not need to just accept various decisions.
“We know that we are standing in the middle of a bloodbath, but we want to lift our sights to the future, otherwise we will not be able to survive.”