Daily life in Lebanon and Jordan means contending with a large number of social and economic pressures and many young people — who make up the vast majority of the population — have lost sight of their cultural heritage. As well as finding themselves faced with high unemployment and other harmful effects caused by conflict and political instability, trends show that many value consumer culture much higher than cultural heritage. Yet with Mercy Corps’ assistance and funding from the European Commission, this has begun to change.
The ‘Foundations for a Strong Future’ program, made possible through funding from the European Union, aims to overcome the challenges of preserving and promoting cultural heritage in Lebanon and Jordan. Through participation in local research, multimedia exhibitions and community outreach programs, many youths have now begun to rediscover their nations’ rich cultural heritage and identities.
The national museums of Lebanon and Jordan which, due to a lack of funding and resources have previously been prevented from engaging fully with visitors, are now working with Mercy Corps to become more engaged with young people. The museums formerly contained few child- or youth-friendly materials but, under this project, multimedia learning towers will be set up. These multimedia exhibits will contain a wealth of accessible information and activities, including proposed tour routes, scavenger hunts and links to modern aspects of cultural heritage.
Mercy Corps will also provide teachers and students with a ‘Cultural Heritage Toolkit’ that provides background information and lesson plans for making learning fun and accessible to all. These toolkits are helping Lebanese and Jordanian youths to develop their knowledge and discover new cultural experiences
A vital part of this program is to encourage young people to share their cultural heritage with those outside their own communities and to build awareness through greater interaction. Mercy Corps has already conducted youth programs in 12 different regions of Lebanon and Jordan. A group of around 150 youths have been selected to participate in a wide range of youth leadership activities and learning programs. Activities include photography and filming workshops, participation in focus groups and visits to cultural sites.
On one such visit, 12 youths visited the Assaha traditional village in the Beirut suburb of Bourj el Barajneh. The participants spent the day tasting traditional foods, learning about traditional crafts and taking a guided tour around the museum.
To ensure the level of interest in cultural heritage is maintained and can continue to grow, Mercy Corps is also conducting cultural heritage training. In August, youth training courses were conducted in several areas across Lebanon and Jordan, including a two-day course in each of the 12 areas. The training course was specifically designed to be interactive, and the participants showed great enthusiasm for developing their own multimedia projects, grasping the medium as an ideal way to discuss further ideas and share with each other their fears, hopes and expectations for the future. In October and November, this culminated with youth in the 12 areas proudly exhibiting their multimedia cultural heritage projects to their communities and peers.