Global Youth Service Day: From Online Community to Civic Action - Youth Change the Image of a City
What started as an online Facebook group in Tripoli is now a thriving network of youth civic organizations making a positive impact in cities throughout the Middle East. On April 20-22, 2012, millions of youth in over 100 countries are taking part in Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), the largest annual campaign that mobilizes children and youth to improve their communities by participating in service and service-learning projects. In honor of Global Youth Service Day 2012, IREX is pleased to share the story of We Love Tripoli (WLT), an organization in Tripoli, Lebanon that is observing the GYSD spirit all year round through youth-led civic engagement projects.
Although Lebanon’s Civil War officially ended in 1990, political and religious divides still exist today. The historic city of Tripoli is one of the most divided and conflict-prone. When asked about how WLT is working to break down these deeply rooted barriers, WLT’s Director, Taha Naji, had this to say:
“We are taking matters into our own hands and transforming the image of our city. Unlike forces that attempt to make their mark through frequent bombings, WLT is spearheading a revolution for change by engaging Tripoli’s young citizens across different political and sectarian divides to volunteer in their communities, and work for the common cause of improving the conditions in our city."
WLT was established after sectarian violence rocked Lebanon in 2008 as an online Facebook community of about 4,000 youth who wanted to change Tripoli’s image. Through the Youth Community Empowerment Program, IREX and IREX Europe began working with WLT to become an NGO by providing ongoing technical support and developing its online e-volunteer management system, where youth can organize volunteering projects to address common community issues.
WLT is now a sustainable NGO with over 13,000 likes on Facebook, a network of over 800 active volunteers, and implemented over 50 projects. Examples of these include city clean ups, collecting and redistributing clothing to the poor, conflict mitigation trainings, and regular visits to orphanages.
Their most popular campaign is called “Walk as You Shoot,” where large groups of youth from different backgrounds walk the streets to take pictures of Tripoli and share them on traditional and social media. The images are sending a message to the public that the youth are preserving their city’s heritage and moving forward together in a peaceful manner. “Shoot as You Walk” has spawned other cities in the region to do the same series, including Jerusalem, Gaza, Casablanca, Sousse, Cairo and Amman.
Recently, 11 more “We Love” groups formed emulating the WLT model, which includes Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Palestine. Together they make up the “We Love Network,” which was presented by Naji at an IREX supported conference in Tunisia to 34 other youth civic activists. As a result, more than 40 prospective groups are in the finalizing stage of forming their own local “We Love” initiative.
The Youth Community Empowerment Program promoted tolerance and conflict mitigation among ethnically and religiously diverse youth of Lebanon. It is funded by the Global Opportunities Fund of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and is implemented by IREX Europe and IREX.