Lebanese LIDTA participants to the rescue!

Recently, VVD International laid contact again with Tiffany Geara and Georges El Ghafary. Both are participants of the Liberal International Democratic Training Academy (LIDTA), which is a high-level training course on a yearly base for talented young politicians from the Middle East and Northern Africa (or MENA-region) organised by VVD International in cooperation with Liberal International. We contacted Georges and Tiffany to discuss the current vibrant situation in Lebanon. The situation in Lebanon is still critical and it is hard to oversee the problematic (socio)economical and political developments. Before the Coronacrisis, the country faced economic decline, and which was worsened by the Coronacrisis. Eventually, the explosion on the 4th of August in Beirut, left Lebanon literally and figuratively in ruins. Many people still do not have access to basic amenities in Beirut. There is for example not enough food and thousands of houses have become unliveable due to the explosion. As a response to this crisis, Tiffany and Georges established Lebanon 2.0. This NGO is a young and dynamic organisation that is working hard, in various ways, to initiate the rebirth of Lebanon.

LIDTA [Liberal International Democratic Training Academy] was essential to the creation of Lebanon 2.0. LIDTA helped me to become more politically involved. I learned how to establish a movement as Lebanon 2.0 and how to get to the people I want to reach. Besides that it widened my network with people from various countries. All of that made it possible for us to establish the NGO and to set up the “Light up Beirut” project.”

 Tiffany Geara, Alumni Liberal Leadership Academy (class of 2019)

Since the explosion on the 4th of August, Tiffany and Georges have been working on the ground in Beirut every day. After the explosion, a massive lack of food, clothes and housing emerged. Tiffany and Georges decided to take action and used their network from LIDTA to get international help. They came into contact with many different NGO’s but particularly important was their contact with fellow participant from LIDTA: Chaimae Bourjij from Morocco. Chaimae connected World Central Kitchen (or also known as WC-Kitchen) with the Lebanese participants. It was a very successful cooperation according to Tiffany: “The cooperation with WC-Kitchen went really smoothly. Thanks to our contact from LIDTA the organisation trusted us very quickly and we were already able to start distributing meals the second day after the explosion.” WC-Kitchen is a non-profit non-governmental organisation devoted to providing meals in the wake of huge disasters.

Tiffany and Georges, with the help of Chaimae and WC-Kitchen, started working with one kitchen and 800 meals a day. However, the need increased, and so they were forced to expand. In the end, Tiffany and Georges were working, through Lebanon 2.0, with nine kitchens and distributed more than 10.000 meals a day and more than 100.000 Lebanese received meals from Lebanon 2.0 so far. Yet, up to today the NGO still aims to distribute a 1000 meals a day for the people in need and for the people that are building up Beirut again.

The state of Lebanon was already problematic before the explosion and the Coronacrisis. According to many economists the dramatic events in Lebanon of last year revealed the underlying issues in the country. Georges shares this view: “We already were facing economic decline and in inequality on many levels for years. The Coronacrisis and the explosion were a catalyst for the problems that the Lebanese already were facing, and they caused a sudden urgent need for help. We are very happy with the donations of foreign countries and foreign NGO’s. However, it is ridiculous that the inhabitants of a country as Lebanon should live on foreign donations and food aid. Before the Coronacrisis and the explosion we already needed lasting changes in our political and economical policy.” Therefore, Lebanon 2.0 is more than an NGO. It is a youth movement as well, that stands for tackling corruption, encouraging secularisation and introducing liberal (economic) reforms. Lebanon 2.0 aims to create a new version of Lebanon. A version of Lebanon that is also adjusted to the interests and demands of the Lebanese youth. Besides that, the NGO holds the Lebanese government accountable for the current crisis in Lebanon and they strive for permanent changes to the improve the welfare and well-being for all Lebanese people, including minorities.

Its main challenge and goal is to unite the Lebanese youth and to encourage them to be more politically active. According to them the Lebanese government has neglected the interests and demands of the Lebanese youth for years. As a result, many young talented Lebanese migrated to other parts of the world where they have a brighter prospect of the future. This is also visible on the streets, according to Tiffany: “Beirut is appearing to be more and more like an elderly home. All the young people are leaving.” Lebanon 2.0 desires to include the youth to the political debate and to make them stay in Lebanon. Because as Georges mentioned during  the interview-meeting with VVD International: “You can’t build back up a country when all young talented people are leaving.”

Additionally, the houses of more than 300.000 people were affected by the explosion on the 4th of August in Beirut. Moreover, winter is coming, and winters are harsh in Lebanon. That is way the most important ongoing project of Lebanon 2.0 is “Light up Beirut”. Light up Beirut is an initiative designated to focus on performing repairs to the houses that have been most affected by the blast, yet have not received any help so far. It concentrates on providing items such as furniture, appliances, and/or lighting. Currently, Tiffany and Georges focus on providing mattresses, covers and pillows to thousands of households.

International Secretary of VVD International, Lennart Salemink, is very proud of Tiffany, Georges and their initiated project. Lennart sees Lebanon 2.0 as another reason to invest more in capacity building for youth in the MENA region as for example the Liberal International Democratic Training Academy : “The LIDTA initiative was called into live by VVD International and Liberal International to empower political talents from the MENA region. The story of Georges, Tiffany and Chaimae is a perfect example of political talents who join forces for a better tomorrow.”

Tiffany and Georges have established Lebanon 2.0 all by themselves. Nevertheless, the skills and network they acquired because of the LIDTA, were very useful for the community work and political work they do now. Moreover, according to Tiffany Lebanon 2.0 would not have been established without LIDTA: “LIDTA was essential to the creation of Lebanon 2.0. LIDTA helped me to become politically involved. I learned how to establish a movement as Lebanon 2.0 and how to get to the people I want to reach. Besides that it widened my network with people from various countries. All of that, made it possible for us to establish Lebanon 2.0 and to set up the “Light up Beirut” project.”

LIDTA was launched in partnership with Liberal International (LI). In LIDTA, a carefully selected group of highly qualified individuals are trained on different personal and political skills that prepare participants for successful political careers in the 21stcentury. The Academy’s curriculum offers teachings on the most modern and effective political strategies to date, as well as equipping participants with the tools to build on their leadership skills. Internationally recognised expert trainers follow students throughout the process, ensuring the highest quality supervision and development support.

President of Liberal International Hakima el Haité: "Following the devastating and regrettable explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, 2020 and the unprecedented loss of life, injury and damage to homes, offices and workspaces across the city, I am so proud that the LIDTA students Tiffany and Georges reacted so proactively to the challenge and sought to help those afflicted. In turn, LI has proactively supported the efforts of Lebanon 2.0 and the 'Light up Beirut' project. It is this kind of leadership and mutual support that will undoubtedly see Tiffany, Georges, and their fellow LIDTA students emerge as the liberal leaders of tomorrow."

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