In the heart of Syria Street in Tripoli, there stands a remarkable landmark and hub known as Kahwetna. What was once a demarcation line, dividing the communities of Jabal Mohsen and Beb Al Tebbaneh, has now transformed into a symbol of unity and hope. Through the power of arts, culture, learning, and community service, Kahwetna has become a meeting ground for the youth, where barriers of sectarianism and division are shattered, and a brighter future is built.
The Start of Kahwetna: Where Former Fighters become Agents of Change
After succeeding in bringing together 16 young former-fighters from Beb El Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen to tell their story through a theater play called Love and War on the Rooftop, we realized that we needed to make our efforts more sustainable and ensure the continuity of the impact the experience had had. Although these youths had always been neighbors, they knew very little about each other. The only encounters they had shared were tainted by animosity and restricted to a context of war and conflict- often from buildings’ rooftops or opposite sides of the frontline. What they knew of each other was limited to what they had been taught by past generations and the sectarian tensions they had inherited.
Additionally, through our work with these local communities, we realized the significance of providing a counter-narrative to conflict and alienation. We also recognized the importance of creating safe and inclusive public spaces that would give the youth the opportunity to interact in a constructive environment while developing their personal and professional skills. We wanted to offer a setting for reconciliation that encouraged constructive dialogue and allowed them to see past the negative stereotypical perceptions they had of one another. From there came the idea of Kahwetna, a unique cultural café situated on Syria Street, a former demarcation line with a violent past.
Kahwetna: Where Sectarianism and Division Are Shattered
At Kahwetna, the focus is on empowering young individuals with knowledge and skills that will shape their lives. The hub offers comprehensive training programs, vocational courses, and community service initiatives, providing invaluable opportunities for personal and professional growth. By bridging the gap between education and practical experience, Kahwetna equips the youth with the tools they need to succeed.
One of Kahwetna’s key offerings is its educational classes, which cover subjects such as English and Arabic. These classes serve a dual purpose: combating illiteracy within the community and enhancing the employability skills of the participants. By empowering the youth with language proficiency, Kahwetna opens doors to new opportunities and broadens their horizons.
In its pursuit of conflict transformation, and with MARCH’s trainings on negotiation and mediation, the hub encourages peaceful resolutions and bridges the gaps between conflicting parties. Notably, the Youth Leader Program at Kahwetna works closely with ex-fighters and ex-convicts, nurturing their leadership skills and inspiring others to join the program. By embracing those who were once on opposing sides, Kahwetna exemplifies the power of forgiveness and second chances.
Moreover, Kahwetna emphasizes community service as a means of fostering responsibility and reconciliation. These activities, which are open to both genders, create a sense of unity and shared purpose among the youth. From distributing food parcels to visiting orphanages, the community service initiatives expand MARCH’s reconciliation efforts and encourage the participants to give back to their communities. Together, they are breaking down the barriers that once separated them.
The vocational trainings at Kahwetna are truly transformative. The Kan Ya Makan community hub brings former enemies together, working hand in hand to acquire skills in woodworking, wood painting, sewing, fashion design, and embroidery. Through innovation and creation, these young individuals unleash their creativity and unlock their potential. Additionally, the hub’s kitchen focuses on developing the youth’s culinary talents, enabling them to secure employment or even establish their own small businesses.
Another remarkable program at Kahwetna is the Love and War Tour. The Love and War Tour is conducted by former fighters and enemies in Jabal Mohsen and Beb Al Tebbeneh where they share their untold stories. The Tour starts with a visit to Kahwetna where they walk through the timeline of Tripoli’s history from a once prosperous flourishing city to a land of battles and resentment. The Tour highlights the stories of once former fighters who have now become agents of change.
One of the standout vocational programs at Kahwetna is the Dental Assistance program. Young women and men participate in this program, gaining theoretical and practical knowledge to become dental assistants. Under the guidance of a certified dentist, the dental clinic at Kahwetna now serves the community and their families, with plans to expand its affordable services to more people in the region. By providing essential healthcare services, the hub not only improves oral health but also strengthens the bonds between community members.
More than a coffee shop, Kahwetna is a world where art breaks barriers, where creativity thrives, and where differences are celebrated. Within the hub’s vibrant walls, young individuals come together to develop their personal and professional potential. Thanks to the remarkable efforts of MARCH, rehabilitation and reconciliation thrive, enabling both men and women to become the architects of change. Today, the location has become a landmark for tolerance, respect, brotherhood and cooperation that has successfully challenged the cross-generational sectarian narrative that had been forcefully engrained.