Lebanon’s youth take to the stage and inspire social change
With roles played by local adolescents, Zahlé’s youth took to the stage, delivering real-life scenarios to heighten awareness of issues surrounding violence against women and children
“Too many of Lebanon’s men, women and children have a story of domestic violence they can recount”, insists nineteen-year-old Bahaa Janbein. “There’s never been a more important time to raise awareness of the issues surrounding it, and UNICEF’s Qudwa community theatre initiative goes straight to the heart of the matter”.
Under the umbrella of their Qudwa strategy and organised by UNICEF’s long-term implementing partner Anera, an interactive community theatre activity was held during March in Zahlé, the Beqaa region’s third-largest city.
UNICEF’s Qudwa empowers Lebanon’s youths with crucial skills required for them to become active agents of change to address violence against children and women in their communities. It is rooted in learning problem-solving skills, respect for diversity, communication, and advocacy in conjunction with fostering youth empowerment to ensure a protective environment for women and children. Its community theatre platform seeks to raise awareness of child labour, child marriage, and all violence against girls, boys, and women by engaging communities in discussions around the topics, allowing them to explore collectively community-based solutions to prevent such trends.
Performing a youth-focused script, and with roles played by local adolescents, Zahlé’s youth took to the stage, delivering dramatic real-life scenarios to provoke thought and heighten informed awareness. At the performance’s end, an open forum discussion occurred between the youthful actors and their audience.
The Qudwa cast, made up entirely of empowered local young men and women, showed that Lebanon’s youth is today an engine for social change.
Bahaa is part of an increasingly enlightened generation of Lebanese males. He views opportunities such as Qudwa’s community theatre as ideal and essential vehicles for sharing positive messages.
“It was hard to play this character. Hard to go inside someone else’s life when they live like this”
“I played the character of a knife-carrying ten-year-old boy”, recalls Bahaa. “Although my character is a world away from my reality, I recognised him. Wherever you go today, you can see children like this.
“It was hard to play this character. Hard to go inside someone else’s life when they live like this. Hard, but a valuable experience. I learned how these problems present themselves and that, for some, these problems continue every day”.
Alexa Debes played Bahaa’s mother. Sixteen-year-old Alexa is a confident and vocal young proponent of Qudwa’s values centred around children's and women’s well-being, dignity and protection from harmful practices. For the performance, she acted the role of an older woman who, although not abused herself, meekly accepts the status quo of violence in her community.
“It was a powerful role. To see the mother turning a blind eye to her husband and son’s behaviour makes her complicit in continuing society’s inequalities”, Alexa notes. “I’m sure I could only feel 1% of this woman’s fear and confusion, but to the audience, they saw it fully”.
Participating youth received UNICEF-led forum theatre training, knowledge and skills, and a strong script enabled the city’s youth to take on challenging roles and play characters beyond their personal life experiences.
Beatrice Sfeir, 20, is another of today’s generation eager to empower women and see them challenge norms and speak their minds. Playing Mariam, married and abused but too afraid to tell her parents or talk about it to friends, Beatrice was reminded of those in her social circle who refused to invite her into their homes.
“They’re afraid I will see how they are treated when inside. Instead, they continue to prefer to hide behind their front doors”, she says.
“Mariam’s daughter was the strength in her family. While the mother always excuses her husband’s behaviour, the daughter knows this is unacceptable. By playing Mariam’s weak yet recognisable character, I was able to highlight to our audience how doing nothing is no longer an option”.
Also on stage was Maha Bou Zeid, 22. Her character is abused and turns to her mother for help. The devastating response is to keep quiet for fear that society would blame the daughter for the situation. “Previous generations didn’t do enough to provide safety and equality between genders”, she stressed.
Speaking after the event, UNICEF Lebanon’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer, Hanin Awde, said, “It’s wonderful to include the country’s youth and make them part of the change through Qudwa.
“It aims to enrich the lives of adolescents by helping them gain a wealth of skills that will positively transform them into change makers and advocates for the elimination of violence against children and women”. As the audience participates in theatrical acting and presents solutions to issues from the community’s point of view simply and entertainingly, Qudwa becomes a suitable tool for community advocacy around these topics.
“Where better for youth to contribute to community change than from within the community itself?” says Hanin, concluding, “Interactive community theatre is one of the essential tools for raising social awareness”.