“In one sentence: Nahnoo creates leaders in order to bring back public space for the Lebanese people.”, states Mohammad Ayoub, the Nahnoo executive director, when asked to depict the core of Nahnoo’s work. He initiated the non-profit organization Nahnoo – meaning “we” – in 2009. Abiding by its non-partisan and non-sectarian core values, Nahnoo works towards the encouragement and support of youths in Lebanon, equipping them with skills indispensable for their professional life and their engagement in local communities.
Preceding the official establishment student discussion groups, universitarian cultural events and sporting activities had been arranged as early as in 2002. Soon the group broadened its commitment to political issues when Lebanon saw itself facing crisis in 2005. At present, Nahnoo engages in three domains: youth empowerment, cultural exchange and advocacy. Recent projects cover locations all across Lebanon with the main focus set on Tyre, Baalbeck and the capital Beirut. Apart from the Nahnoo team around Mohammad Ayoub, himself holding a master’s degree in history, currently working on yet another degree in psychology and having completed training on advanced communication, the organization is backed by youths with over 50 people volunteering in projects and campaigns. Moreover, the organization has established ties with various international partners, foremost with the Middle East department of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
“You Are What You Eat.”
The first area Nahnoo is committed to is its youth program, which has now entered the fifth year of being active and has since its start continuously been enhanced. The main objective of this program is to empower young people in the fields of communication and vocation, but also to strengthen them on a personal level. Nahnoo achieves these goals by conducting training on leadership, conflict resolution and the theory and practice of communication. More specifically, targeted issues envelop key elements and the basic psychology of communication processes. Special focus is laid upon including aspects of practicality, the relevance of cultural divergences and an interactive methodology in these trainings. Having participated in this program, youths are fit to perform in oral and written presentations – a key to successfully standing up for their rights and assuming an active role in change processes and peace building in Lebanon. Recent events organized in the framework of the youth program include the “Separated Pronouns” project, which consisted of 13 workshops within the period of one whole year with no less than 205 young people having taken part in a dialogue on effective communication, conflict resolution and principles of leadership – to name but a few of the areas addressed. Additionally, Nahnoo hosted an eight day workshop in November and December of 2012 focussing on concepts and the use of effective communication.
However, the Nahnoo team also has proven that more unconventional ways to empowering youths should be taken into consideration. Just before the start of 2013 Nahnoo called for a gathering titled “You are what you eat: Nahnoo’s family dinner”. The event assembled people from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Mexico, Germany, Norway, France, America and Bosnia, inviting them to prepare a dish deriving from their respective home countries. This idea resulted in a homely evening at the Nahnoo office filled with good food, music and intercultural dialogue.
Adjacent to the field of youth empowerment, Nahnoo concentrates on a second program specified on cultural exchange. This program not only holds significance for the dialogue of young people from different countries, but also is meaningful for building a greater understanding between groups within the Lebanese society. Latest events in this field include an intercultural exchange workshop aimed at conveying a sense of empathy for different cultural practices and ideas, but also at encouraging curiosity for other countries and raising awareness for prejudice and stereotyping. Again relying on the organization’s key competence of communication, the workshop provided space for an intellectual exchange and offered solutions in resolving intercultural challenges. Furthermore, Nahnoo arranged for a Lebanese-Norwegian week for the third year in a row. In cooperation with high-ranking institutions both in Beirut and Oslo a week of Norwegian and Lebanese poetry readings and musical performances, literature and film discussions and a scholarly debate on the freedom of expression was carried out in Beirut. Another remarkable project brought to life as part of the cultural exchange program of Nahnoo earlier in 2012 is a volunteer exchange between Denmark and Lebanon. Participants were offered the unique possibility to spend a whole year in Denmark, accommodated by a Danish host family and being given the chance to explore, cooperate and interact with Danish culture.
The Right to Public Space
The third field Nahnoo has proven great devotion to is that of public space. Having experienced the ongoing rapid loss and devaluation of public space, most notably in Beirut, the organization has developed several striking projects. The organization’s foremost goal lies in making existing open space available to the public. The motivation for this is justified by the fact that holding access to public space provides residents with psychological, social and health benefits. Green spaces, open beaches and plazas not only serve as an arena for conversations, for gathering new impressions, for encountering new people, for relaxing, for sporting activities; they also help individuals identify themselves with their neighbourhood, their city, their country. However, for the time being the need and right to sufficient publicly accessible interaction and exchange forums is being denied to many Lebanese people. This program area resembles a good example of Nahnoo’s approach to campaigns and raising awareness.
At present, Nahnoo’s most challenging and attention calling project is focussed on urging the Municipality of Beirut to grant the public access to Horsh Beirut, a pine forest covering 330,000 sqm and with that forming the largest green space within the city of Beirut. Since 1995 parts of the park - currently 66% of its total surface - have been closed to the public, even after the completion of renovation works following the civil war. The reluctance to offer the public the opportunity to experience the forest with its natural heritage of pine trees has raised questions to which officials to date have not responded sufficiently. Merely the municipality’s concern over a possible damage to the park through irresponsible youths has been brought forward as reasoning for the upheld closure – yet no concrete plan to resolve the issue has been announced.