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Extending the Olive Branch

Debunking stigmas surrounding Syrian refugees by creating a peace bridge, through non-violence curriculum, with the Lebanese host community.

Photo of Basmeh  Zeitooneh

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The conflict in Syria has killed over a quarter of a million people. The UN estimates that 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced and 4.27 million have fled to other countries. Around 2 million Syrians have relocated to Lebanon branding the region as the largest host in recent history. Some reside in displacement zones, while many are trying to integrate into existing communities. Life for refugees in Lebanon is untenable; the majority of Syrians are not permitted to work and have limited access to basic resources. Lebanon too, due to the extreme and rapid influx, coupled with inadequate resources and weak infrastructure, is overwhelmed. The majority of Lebanese, due to a long conflict history, perceive Syrians as an economic and social burden while branding regional groups as a security risk. The result: refugee families, having escaped atrocities at high costs, now find themselves trapped in a state of stigma, sliding into a state of isolation, poverty, poor health, and hopelessness, in communities that reject their existence. So, this project aims to debunk the stigma surrounding Syrians and bridging refugees lives to the surrounding Lebanese community. The goal is to create a curricular structure for social integration where both communities overlap for a common goal. The curriculum will train “integration ambassadors” whose main job is creating these social opportunities which will include public artmaking projects, sports events, and service projects. The curriculum will be designed for implementation in schools with the goal of dissemination to the broader community in the future. We will collaborate with AUNOHR and test the prototype in the Shatila Refugee Camp schools. Outcome evaluation will be performed, and a modified curriculum will be implemented in other schools. Ultimately, integration ambassadors will cultivate this curriculum in the wider Lebanese community. Our dream is to remove isolation walls and in return, improve the quality of life.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We will target Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the Lebanese community. Syrians face difficult situations given the discriminatory societal, legal, and infrastructural conditions pertaining to their presence in the country. Lebanese politicians fuel the rising tension by blaming refugees for unemployment and instability. Rights of refugees locally are not protected by international law and their access to services and livelihood is placed in the hands of politicians, parties, and municipalities.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

This idea builds bridges of empathy, sympathy, human connection and attempts to find common grounds between refugees and the host community. The model will debunk the false premise that refugees are passive victims and a security threat. It will also restructure refugees’ views towards the host community. Currently, refugees fear any form of interaction with members of the Lebanese community.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

There are two communities of focus, Syrian refugees and the surrounding Lebanese community. The current body of research suggests that refugees integration in hosts communities allows for the prosperity of the country at large. This project will provide pathways for integration and assimilation for Syrians, debunk the wildly held assumption that they are dangerous intruders. For the Lebanese community, this project will reveal the truth, remove the fear factor, and provide opportunities for human connection. This project will help in reducing violence and security incidents between both communities. By addressing the issues mentioned above, this project will improve the quality of lives for refugees as well as inform the building of a better Lebanese community. Refugees can contribute to the advancement of local economic and social societal structure.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The idea takes a transformative approach that will impact members of the refugee and Lebanese community, including children and youth, now and in the future. Their vocabulary and games at school, home, and the street will notably transform; and their view of the other and their approach to solving problems will take a peaceful form that reflects acceptance. With educational practice, such actions will become a way of life and not just a practice. Every non-violent act that a child makes will have a non-violent actionable impact inside the community. They will become, day by day, and by themselves, ‘positive actors’ rather than ‘passive receivers.’ The same goes for educators, parents, and surrounding community who say they don’t have non-violent alternatives for methods of dealing with a child. They will have an opportunity to transform their behavior, day by day, through practical examples from the community. Daily partial transformations will accumulate to become the “new thing.”

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The hearts of Syrian refugees firstly inspired us. Their horrific escape stories, the desire to belong and become productive members of society, coupled by an intense longing for friendship and assimilation motivated us to dig deep into extending the olive branch with the Lebanese community. We were also awakened by the misinformed fear the local community feels due to political brainwashing tactics and separation from the refugee community. The result; both communities continue to struggle over top-down issues that can be addressed by creating a bridge for healing. These were the foundation to partner with AUNOHR. Lastly, we were moved by AUNOHR's work around non-violent communication and their impact on peacebuilding among war-torn communities.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

After the Syrian uprisings in 2011, more than 2 million Syrians relocated to Lebanon seeking refuge away from the violent armed conflicts that were taking place in Syria. Lebanon, a country with a history of social and economic instability, was overwhelmed by the high numbers of new incomers. Political parties managed to convince the public that the Syrian crisis and the high number of refugees have strained Lebanon’s public finances, service delivery, and the environment; this created a hostile community that views Syrian refugees as the cause of all problems. Despite all the similarities, the two communities were separated by hatred and Syrians now face all types of discrimination, hostility, and violence.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Syrian and Lebanese communities have so much in common yet the political rhetoric blurred any possibility for integration. So, our idea is a bottom up approach that capitalizes on community strengths and traditions to create opportunities for both communities to meet. The youth ambassadors, who will be members of both communities, will participate in designing activities and provide ideas on how to bring out all the common traits between both communities. This includes music, arts, and overlapping social practices. The overlap in traditions and artistic strengths will be utilized to bring both sides together. Syrians and Lebanese share an overlapping history and geographical similarities that can be used as a base for bridge building between both communities. For example, the Dabke (group dance) is a pillar in both communities. We will design a curricular structure that will cultivate these shared practices.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

AUNOHR was founded as an independent higher education institution in Lebanon (Ministerial Decree No 487, 04.09.2014; Teaching License No 714 M/18.08.2015): A first-of-its-kind, with a Legacy of 30 years of pioneering experience of its founders, Walid Slaybi and Ogarit Younan. Mission: To be an incubator for academic professionalism and constructive social change, with personal development. AUNOHR is a non-traditional education, with students coming from all over the Arab region, restoring the vibrant colors of life to empower the self, and then back to their societies as ‘birds of freedom’, so as ends and means remain intertwined like a tree and a seed, as Gandhi said. A common conclusion reached by the students: "It is a turning point" Nine Majors for Master Degrees and University Diplomas (BA, soon) on Education, Theater, Conflicts & Mediation, Training, Media & Nonviolence Communication, Human Rights, Citizenship, Civil society Strategies, and Nonviolence & Human Rights Culture

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Basmeh and Zeitooneh

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Basmeh & Zeitooneh started in 2012 by a group of Syrian volunteers in Lebanon. Within a year, B&Z became a Lebanese NGO and received the first grant to start three different programs in their community center in Shatila Camp. In 2015 a branch was set up in Turkey and in 2017 and 2018 the organization registered fund-raising subsidiaries in the US and UK. In 2019 work began in Erbil, Iraq. B&Z developed a distinctive form of service delivery that depends on community centers. After creating a center, work is initiated by providing basic services that the community requires; then the organization works to understand the community, recruit and train staff members from within the community itself. This approach has allowed the organization to evolve. The team has become adept at tailoring approach to location. The social cohesion programs have significantly reduced tensions between the local population and refugees. Donors have recognized B&Z’s approach as both impactful and cost-effective

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State



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Photo of Ikong James

Great idea @Basmeh Zeitooneh. Love your ideas touch points and wish you the best of luck.

Photo of Basmeh  Zeitooneh

Thank you Ikong James 
We really appreciate your support!

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