Meet the project: 26 Letters

We, Jade and Amber, are working at the organization 26 Letters, a school in the centre of Beirut, Lebanon. The aim of 26 Letters is to Find, Teach and Inspire children who lack access to school or who are in need of extra educational support. Yet, what makes studying more fun? 26 Letters creates their own curriculum that adapts to the child’s interest, needs and wants. Expect to find classmates’ names or drawings of the kid’s favorite figure.

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A little competition

Besides English, Arabic, math and history, the oldest kids receive interactive ethic classes. Here, the children (and the teachers) not only learn about their personal values but also about the values of others. The children learn that everyone is equal and that only oneself can define who he/she is. 26 Letters strives to expand the border of the children’s social, educational, professional, and personal development.

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Mmmm Icecream

Enough education for today, because education should be fun too. 26 Letters rewards the children for their good work. Think about ice cream after class, beach days and movie nights.

 

 

However, this goal isn’t enough to describe what 26 Letters actually is. Most importantly, it is a family of students and teachers. Where everyone is welcome and feels at home. We are brothers and sisters who are welcomed to the fullest by the founders Janira, Tamar and German. We are not only teaching the students, but get inspired by their lives and dreams. We are laughing and playing with them and secretly we also learn a lot from our wonderful students. We are very happy and honored to be a part of this lovely family! Watch these videos. You might want to become part of the family too (and you can!).

You can contribute to this beautiful project. A small amount of money will have a big impact: https://www.gofundme.com/286u4s-26-letters-rebuild-a-generation

A country of diversity

When thinking of the Middle East, one of the first assumptions I made was related to religion. I assumed that almost everyone would be Muslim. I definitely thought wrong. When walking in the streets of Beirut you might come across a mosque, but chances are almost as big that you see a church.

A study conducted in 2011 by Statistics Lebanon estimates that 54% of the population is Muslim (27% Sunni, 27% Shia), 40.4% Christian (21% Maronite, 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Melkite, 1% Protestant and 5.4% other Christian denominations) and 5.6% Druze. There are also very small numbers of Jews, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

In downtown Beirut, you are even able to find a church and a mosque right next to each other. But the diversity and equality go further than what we see in the streets, also in politics you can find an organized division of religions. The parliamentary seat allocation is officially divided equally by law. The Taif Agreement was signed on 22 October 1989. This agreement was made to arrange the equal division between Christians and Muslims, proportionately between the confessions of each category and proportionately between the regions. The position of the President is traditionally assigned to a Maronite, the Prime Minister is a traditionally Sunni Post and the position of the Speaker a traditionally Shia post.

Whether this is still completely practiced in current politics stays a bit unclear, but for me this at least shows that Lebanon is a very diverse country that is able to bring together a lot of religions in a peaceful way. One more reason to love Lebanon.

Sources:
– International Religious Freedom Report for 2011, United States Department of State – Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
– The Taef Agreement, as published by the Lebanese Government

Meet the team

We are four students joining the Nour Project in the summer of 2018. The Nour Project is organized by Aiesec and has the goal to ‘bridge the gap between the Arab and the Western culture’. In order to do so, we will be going to Lebanon to work on different voluntary projects in the region. Next to working as a volunteer at a NGO in Lebanon, we will be sharing our thoughts and experiences with you on this blog. Our dream is to create a peaceful environment where people understand culture differences and accept each other. We hope that we can challenge stereotypes and take you with us on this journey!

Nour Project

Mission

The mission of Students Bridging Gaps is to share unique local experiences that inspire you to challenge stereotypes and to narrow the gap between the Western and Arab culture.

Team Members

 Amber de Been

Amber

My name is Amber, I am 23 years old and currently studying International Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. My biggest passions are traveling and dancing, two things I couldn’t live without! The Nour Project definitely fits into my passion for traveling and discovering new cultures. I am very open to hearing and discussing other opinions and expanding my horizons.

The media often shows a very negative side of the Islam and the Middle East. I am very interested in finding out what life is like in this area myself, instead of hearing subjective news and only getting one side of the story. I try my best not to judge people on things like appearance, faith and origin, but even I notice at times that I am easily influenced by things I see and read in the media. That is why I think it is very important to also show another side of the Arab world, a more human, approachable side that shows that the people that live in the MENA region are not that different from you and me.

Jade van Huisseling

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Hi there, I am Jade van Huisseling, 23 years old and I am honored to be part of Students Bridging Gaps. In September I will start the Master of International Development Studies at Utrecht University. If you ask my friends and family, I am sure they will mention that I have this obsession with ‘sustainability’, they won’t forget to mention me bringing my own Coffee Cup, and ‘human rights’ with a critical view towards the Western way of thinking. I strongly believe that every person is beautiful in his/her own way and should be treated equally, however, only in a way that they want to be treated.

I love to discover new cultures and places to create my own unique experience. While traveling to Jordan last year, I learned an important lesson. I felt a little bit scared to go since many people, who had never been, expressed their worried feelings. But it taught me that you can’t criticize something if you haven’t experienced it yourself. I truly mean it when I say that from the first moment on, I directly fell in love with the Arab culture, the warm-hearted people and the unfamiliar but lovely language. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can inspire you to go, challenge stereotyping and turn your back to media bias. But I especially want to encourage you to go to the MENA region and to create your own experience, because I believe that experiences can turn something unfamiliar and scary into something beautiful. With SBG I hope to help you to take one step further on the bridge that narrows the gap between the Arab and the Western world.

Jazz Rampen

Linkedin foto 2017Hi! My name is Jazz Rampen, 23, and currently finishing my Masters’ in Business Administration at the University of Amsterdam. I have written my thesis about corporate sustainability and hope to continue to work on this topic in future jobs. Whether it is businesses, governments or individuals; I believe that we all need to work together to achieve sustainable developments. For that reason I will be working on an educational project for refugee children in Zahle, Lebanon.

Lebanon’s population currently consists for 20% out of refugees. I am therefore especially interested in how the country manages the migration streams compared to the Netherlands in which refugees are also a topic of discussion, but have a much smaller impact on the country compared to Lebanon. Next to that, together with the others,  I hope to provide a glimpse of the everyday life in Lebanon, provide more insight on the local culture and thereby overcome misconceptions and prejudices regarding the region through stories, photos and videos.

Nicole van Batenburg

Hi everyone! My name is Nicole van Batenburg.  I’m a 24 year old Dutch university student and I’m studying towards a Masters Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam. Because I started last February with this Masters programme, I got the amazing opportunity to combine this Middle-Eastern adventure with writing my Masters thesis.

In addition to working as a journalist for quality education at the NG0, Lebanese Alternative Learning, I will spend most of my time carrying out research.  I’m focusing on voting intentions during elections in Lebanon, and the role of religion in this explosive country with such a fascinating democratic governmental system. Although I’m extremely interested in this subject, I will not write about it or mention it too often on this website.  Instead we will focus on showing you some of the great things we experience during our stay in Lebanon.  We will share articles or videos about noteworthy adventures or insights related to the Lebanese culture, equality, sustainability, globalization, human rights or other world matters.

In the hours I’m not focusing on my research or internship, I will focus on exploring the country on my race bike. As I’m very passionate about cycling and would like to start racing in a higher division from September 2018, I have to maintain a certain amount of training hours this summer.  Luckily it’s currently my favourite thing to do and since my race bike kind of feels like my boyfriend, I won’t struggle to keep myself motivated.  I’m really looking forward to cycling in Lebanon because of the mountains and beautiful landscape, and this will all hopefully help me to arrive home stronger than I was before I left!

If you want to learn more about me, don’t hesitate to follow me on Instagram or take a look at my personal website.I love writing and this blog is completely filled with random poetry, daily stories about sports and other nonsense that spontaneously pops into my mind from time to time (but in Dutch).

Preparation Days

To prepare ourselves for our trip to Lebanon, Aiesec organized two preparation days. We joined workshops in Arabic language, documentary making and creative writing. We had the honour to spend the first day in the Ulu Mosque in Utrecht (see photo) and the second day at the University of Leiden.

We will take all the skills we have learned with us on this journey to make it an even better one!