A programme teaching Lebanese public and private school students to resolve conflicts through mediation and positive communication has been a huge success, officials tell Al-Mashareq.
Offered by the Professional Mediation Centre (PMC) at St. Joseph University in Beirut since 2010, the training programme targets students ages 9 and above.
On May 11th, 285 students from seven public schools in Beirut and northern and southern Lebanon graduated from the 'positive communication' programme. It was the first time the training was offered in public schools after it had targeted private schools only since its inception.
From that batch, 107 students went on to become certified mediators tasked with resolving conflicts and tension amicably between their peers.
Additionally, 14 teachers received training on conflict resolution, and more than 80 teachers and parents have been educated about the importance of mediation.
At Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah Public School in Ras Beirut, 13-year-old Syrian student Lana al-Naal constantly finds herself resolving conflicts that arise among her peers.
Every time students engaged in a physical fight, al-Naal told Al-Mashareq she would ask herself, "How can this violence be stopped?"
"I used to be pained by the violence between friends and did not know how to intervene to resolve their problems verbally, until I enrolled in the mediation project," she said.
"I learned how to resolve conflicts and bring points of view closer through quiet communication and by stressing the importance of listening to divergent views," she said.
"I now intervene in every conflict to resolve it amicably," al-Naal said.
"I play the role of mediator to solve problems between my friends at school and within my family environment," she added. "Everyone now calls me the problem solver."
Resolving disputes at school and beyond
PMC was established in 2006 to "spread the spirit of humanism, kindness and solidarity between people for the promotion of non-violence and peace building", centre director Johanna Hawari-Bourjeily told Al-Mashareq.
Since 2010, the centre has been grooming peacemakers among students in Lebanese schools by training them on mediation skills, she said.
Professional mediation, according to Bourjeily, "allows the parties to a conflict to return to direct communication and compare this to other methods and means of resolving conflicts".
This allows them to favour logic and reason over violence, and enables them to negotiate and move forward toward a solution that suits both parties, she added.
This new approach "presents a real alternative that helps students think and learn the skills needed to moderate disputes at school and beyond", she said.
"Living [the concept of] moderation in their schools and homes, and adopting it as a solution to their disputes with anyone, puts students on the path to peace," she said.
Students are the "nucleus of the future", she said, hence "it is very important that we train them from an early age to listen to their needs without resorting to violence, to they may be raised on the culture of non-violence".
Building peaceful generations
The project comes at a time of growing violence among students at schools, Bourjeily said, and of spreading extremism, which sometimes leads to terrorism.
"So, we found it necessary to work with students and equip them with peaceful tools to resolve conflicts," she said.
This in turn would help build "peaceful generations that are hard to drag into violence that could lead to undesirable consequences", she added.
The first phase of the mediation trainings consists of conducting an awareness campaign that teaches students about how to solve conflicts in a non-violent manner, said Michelle Matta, who is in charge of PMC's mediation trainings.
In that phase, "the students learn about themselves and others and the reasons for their violent behavior to help them better understand themselves", she told Al-Mashareq.
"In the second phase, we select qualified students to play the role of mediators, who attend courses on the concept of mediation and its tools," she said.
Decline in violence
"Since we started work on mediation in schools in 2010, the intensity of violence among students has hugely declined in 20 schools that enrolled in our programme," Matta said.
"The students assure us that they have indeed changed, and that they are resolving their problems through dialogue," she said.
Students also have been resorting to the mediators to help them resolve some of their conflicts, she added.
"Our project puts [youth] on the right track to resolving disputes," she said.