One summer afternoon in 2001, 11 years after the end of the Civil War, two women met over a cup of tea in a Lebanon still under Syrian occupation and divided along sectarian lines.

Article by: Yara Zgheib

One wore a hijab over her dark hair, the other a cross around her neck. Both had raised their children during the war. Marie Chaftari had been a communications officer for the Christian forces: “The other for me was the Muslim.” For Lina Hamade Charafeddine, who felt stigmatized for wearing her veil, “There was no place for the other in my daily life.”

They met through Initiatives of Change, a global organization headquartered in Switzerland, whose mission is to “build trust across the world’s divides.” It brought people together from all over the world, from either side of many conflicts, to address and heal wounds and work toward reconciliation and a future together. That cup of tea launched the first of many conversations, and curiosity gradually replaced fear.

“And curiosity gradually replaced fear.”

In 2005, they formed a group of women who began meeting regularly. “We spoke about the veil and the nikab, about marriage and divorce, even about Christ and religious beliefs and about everything that (we) had heard about each other,” says Marie.

They discovered that there was no other, just another way of seeing the same thing. So while the country and region around them faced repeated, divisive outbreaks of social and political unrest, Lina and Marie founded Linaltaki, an organization whose name means “let’s meet.”

Linaltaki brings Muslim and Christian women together to organize a five-day summer camp for 60 children from all over Lebanon every year. The 13-year-olds take part in workshops, creative activities and games around the themes of conflict resolution, communication, emotional intelligence and challenging prejudice.

The children play, eat, and live together. They attend the workshops and ateliers. They ask questions, they share stories, they sing. They put a show together for their parents and friends on the final day of the camp, then return to their communities having made wonderful friends and memories.

Ongoing since 2010, these camps have had a profound impact on the children, who are exposed, often for the first time, to beliefs and ways of life different from their own. Acceptance, respect, shared values. One of the participants, Nour Banna, said: “I learned that God is one and he has no religion… we are all children of God.” Many maintain the new friendships they have formed for years after the summer camp.

The impact is felt by the organizers as well, and even the families to which the children return. Year after year siblings and classmates of former participants ask to take part in the camp themselves. The premise of Linaltaki’s mission is Pope John Paul II’s message to Lebanon: “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”

That Lebanon exists, and within it so many beliefs and cultures, stories and traditions, is a powerful message to the world: The Other is just Another. Another learning experience, another perspective, another friend perhaps?

“When we love each other as mothers, our children will end up loving each other as not make war again.”

It takes courage to let go of the fear and prejudices one has been building for years, to dare to say: “let’s meet.” But “by not reaching out to the other,” says Lina, “I missed not only the beauty of the other but of myself.” Marie adds: “And when we love each other as mothers, our children will end up loving each other and not make war again.”

Neither Lina nor Marie could have envisioned the friendship or extraordinary project their first cup of tea would launch. Since then, over campfire  conversations, games, and songs, they have been breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes. They have shared their story and led workshops on conflict resolution and reconciliation, both in Lebanon and at Initiatives of Change conferences in Caux, Switzerland.

The greatest challenge they still face is bringing this message of friendship HOME; in the hearts and minds of many Lebanese in their respective communities, the wounds of the past are still fresh. These ladies do not believe in ignoring differences, but “we believe that what unites us is far greater and more sacred than what separates us”… and that is a future for their children. And by meeting, talking, and organizing this summer camp, they hope to raise a generation that will truly be a message of freedom and pluralism for the East and the West.

FB: Linaltaki

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