By engaging with the young men and women of Beb El Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, our organization recognized the imperative need to create safe and inclusive public spaces within the communities that would give the youth a place to interact away from the toxic dynamics of sectarian divide. We also wanted to build an environment that challenged the patriarchal narrative and allowed women to be seen as equals. From here came the idea of our cultural cafés. Over and above, MARCH realized that the absence of accessible shared spaces had intensified the sharp sectarian dichotomy within these neighborhoods.
In 2016, MARCH inaugurated Kahwetna on Syria street, a former demarcation line with a violent past. The cultural café not only brought together former enemies- building bridges and friendships- but also fostered constructive dialogue. Today, it has developed into the cradle of our organization’s work in Tripoli and has transformed into a place where participants share stories, meals and experiences. Kahwetna has become a hub for tolerance and understanding and has contributed to the creation of a common identity.
In 2018, MARCH replicated this experience in Beirut where it created another cultural café strategically placed at the heart of one of the capital’s former demarcation lines. Much like Tripoli, Beirut’s multiculturalism hadn’t always played to its advantage. Traces of the civil war still remained embedded in the city’s infrastructure. Although different in nature, sectarian tensions were also tangible and youth were more often than not confined to their respective environments rarely integrating other communities. Therefore, the organization set out to establish Hona Beirut, an inter-communal hub that offers artistic and recreational facilities in addition to ongoing capacity-building and career-oriented workshops. Hona Beirut has successfully challenged the cross-generational sectarian narrative that had been forcefully ingrained in the city’s youth.
Overall, these cultural cafes have been the cornerstone of MARCH’s work in peace-building as they have allowed the youth to claim ownership of their own expression and find a sense of belonging.