As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, more than one million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon and now represent over 25 percent of the population in a country of four million people. This dramatic increase in population has brought about significant disruptions to the Lebanese economy, infrastructure, demographics, and society. In addition, Syrian refugees are often concentrated in already economically underdeveloped areas of Lebanon. As a result, Lebanese youth in these areas suffer from high levels of unemployment and feel marginalized in their own country, further fueling discrimination and resentment towards refugees.
Women and children make up nearly 80 percent of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and are especially vulnerable to the consequences of conflict. The emotional costs incurred by Syrian refugees are profound. Most have experienced the death of relatives or close friends or have been separated from their families, and many cross into Lebanon unaccompanied.
Once in Lebanon, many young Syrian refugees forgo education in favor of work to support themselves and their families, making them susceptible to exploitation. Without a proper education, another consequence is that these young people often struggle to focus their energy and participate fully in society. These issues cause tensions and reinforce negative stereotypes between Syrian refugees and Lebanese locals. The refugees who are able to attend school are often bullied and marginalized by their Lebanese peers.
In response to this unprecedented refugee crisis, we have partnered with two local organizations, LOST in the Bekaa Valley and DPNA in South Lebanon, to address the challenges of social cohesion among Syrian and Lebanese youth through arts. “Better Together: A Youth-led Approach to Peaceful Coexistence” begins with two summer camps in which Syrian and Lebanese youth participate in conflict resolution trainings and artistic workshops in drawing, theater, music, and film. Three-hundred and twenty youth will attend these trainings and workshops over two years and learn to express themselves through art, as well as how to battle the stereotypes and misconceptions they hold against each other. Once the camps are completed, these youth will be ready to become leaders and improve relations between these two communities.
After the summer camps, the project continues with year-long artistic workshops to address trauma and promote mutual understanding nationwide, as well as a “pen pal” activity that will allow the youth to keep in touch with other participants throughout Lebanon. Though outside of the formal educational system, these activities engage Syrian refugees and their Lebanese youth counterparts by encouraging them to address everyday challenges together and focus their energies productively and creatively.
In addition to our workshops and activities, we are using our relationships with Lebanese media to broadcast short videos detailing our efforts across local TV channels. The videos will be also shown at public events held by us and our partners in order to exhibit the artistic outcomes of the project. These artistic performances will give community members the opportunity to explore the issues such as social cohesion, stereotypes, and misconceptions about “the other.” Finally, we will hold a discussion with expert facilitators to reflect on the project.
 According to the 2014 Syria Regional Response Plan in Lebanon, 78% of Syrian refugees are women and children. http://www.unhcr.org/syriarrp6/docs/syria-rrp6-lebanon-response-plan.pdf.
In light of the important role of youth in conflict mitigation, Search for Common Ground – Lebanon, in partnership with the Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training in North Bekaa and Development for People and Nature Association in South Lebanon, has embarked on a project entitled “Better Together: A Youth-led Approach to Peaceful Coexistence between Syrian Refugees and Lebanese Local Communities” funded by the European Union. This project targets Syrian refugee youth and Lebanese youth aged fifteen to twentyfive in North Bekaa (Ein-Hermel-Baalbek-Bednayel) and the South (Saida-Nabatieh-Sour-Jezzine).