What would you do with nine old but beautiful traditional Lebanese houses in the scenic community of Batroun? How about creating a Lebanese Diaspora Museum and a neighborhood of HOMEs representing countries with large populations of Lebanese emigrants and their descendants?
That was the creative answer of Lebanese Foreign Minster Gebran Bassil and the Municipality of Batroun. “The vision is to transform a dilapidated neighborhood into an attraction,” said Municipal President Marcelino Hark.
History of the Project
The Culture Ministry bought the properties in 1999 in order to pursue an archeological dig, said Hark. However, the financing to move forward on the dig did not materialize. Meanwhile, the HOMEs were deteriorating Bassil suggested that the historic HOMEs had the potential to be developed and become an attraction themselves. “We asked the former Minister of Culture Gaby Layyoun to allow the municipality to take care of the site,” said Hark. “We were given a 25-year lease. Now the clock is ticking, about five years have passed.”
The next question was how to finance the renovations. The idea to engage Lebanese in the diaspora to join the project appears to be the solution.
“We can help each other,” said Hark.
The communities who engage with the project will provide the financial support that will make it happen. In turn, the project will provide a place to celebrate and honor the achievements of the Lebanese in the diaspora, as well as create a place for trade shows, festivals and events that are mutually beneficial, he said. It will create a place where the communities in the diaspora can come together in one place to exchange ideas and collaborate, he added.
The project was announced at the Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference in May 2014.
Building the Diaspora Village Each of the nine HOMEs will be adopted by a Lebanese community abroad, which would renovate the HOME in the style of their adopted country. “Imagine,” said Hark, “one piece of land with HOMEs that can hold exhibitions from nine different countries and a museum, a small hotel, a café, and a place to house exhibitions and trade shows. That’s our target.”
Private donors are coming forward to support the project and the municipality is coordinating it, said Hark. Five communities have committed to renovating a HOME in the style and spirit of their adopted countries: Russia, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. There is also interest from the Lebanese community in Canada.
Creating the Diaspora Museum
Private donors are also helping fund the Lebanese Diaspora Museum, which will contain artifacts and relics from the history of Lebanese emigration. It will be a centerpiece of the project. Lebanese in the diaspora are encouraged to give relics from family history to the museum, contributing to the history, understanding and appreciation of the emigrant experience.
Making it Happen
Involving the Lebanese Diaspora in the project was a great idea, said H.E. Ambassador Elie J. Turk. While no one knows the actual numbers of Lebanese in the diaspora, they are clearly many more than the residents of Lebanon and can be a great support, he said.
More important than the population numbers are the accomplishments, contributions and visibility of the Lebanese, said Dr. Guita Hourani, director of the Lebanese Emigration Research Center and Notre Dame University assistant professor of law and political science.
“This is where the phenomenon is – a small population of emigrants who succeeded in every immigration country,” said Hourani. A village dedicated to their success will have much to celebrate.
Ambassador Turk praised the project, saying, “It will bring the whole area to life. It will be an entertainment hub for the community, a place for tourists and Lebanese alike to enjoy.”
Those wishing to contribute items to the Diaspora Museum should contact the Municipality of Batroun (http://batroun.gov.lb).