In the north of Lebanon, in the centre of the capital, Tripoli, two neighbourhoods, separated by one street and connected by a few stairways, have been waging a fratricidal war for many years.
This conflict, born out of the Lebanese war and the Syrian occupation, has deeply scarred this once-united suburb. The split arose between those for and against the Syrian regime along confessional lines: Alawites in the Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood, Sunnis in that of Bab al Tebbeneh.
Lea comes from Beirut, she is a Christian. She was working as a manager at Deloitte, but decided to leave this prestigious position, and move to Tripoli to create a cultural centre and an association called MARCH, right on the dividing line between the two neighbourhoods.
Why did this young woman, a native of Beirut and a Christian, undertake to help overcome yesterday's conflicts by rebuilding these destroyed neighbourhoods and reconnecting the Alawite and Sunni inhabitants?
After having received a very bourgeois education (Prestigious Business Schools - AUB & HEC-, piano & dance lessons ...), today Lea rejects this elitism in an effort to give new meaning to her life. In 2011, she created the association MARCH that fights against censorship and promotes equality for all communities in Lebanon. In 2015, MARCH innovated by bringing the youths of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tebbeneh together on a theatre stage.
This initiative was a resounding success. The association then decided to open a first citizen's café, right on the demarcation line between the neighbourhoods. This café, called "Kahwetna" has become a meeting place for these young people, who have managed to accept and overcome their religious differences. Getting to know each other helped them realise they had been puppets for the politicians and that there were more things that brought them together than that set them apart.
It is with the same dynamism that, in 2016, Lea went on to launch the "Bab el-Dahab" project: a vast project to rehabilitate the neighbourhood by renovating and re-opening all the abandoned shops.
Those around her wonder how she is able to deal with people who have held weapons and may have killed people? Lea makes the choice not to judge them. She believes deeply that human beings can be led, in certain circumstances, to do many things. She goes towards these men and women who not so long ago were at war, and gets to know them, their names, their faces, their stories...For above all, they are human beings to be discovered.
Through the "Bab el-Dahab" project, the association provides training in construction for men and graphic design for women. Together, they apply their knowledge to give a new face to the rue de Syrie, the old dividing line between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al Tebbeneh.
It is not only the shops that the association is restoring, but also the connections between the inhabitants, Sunnis and Alawites alike. It offers them a professional and social future, far from any religious and sectarian considerations.
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