Developing Social Awareness and Leadership Skills

A program that I very much respect here at Haigazian is the sponsoring of a group of students drawn from all parts of Lebanon in an intense educational program with the intent of developing leaders for the future.

I am grateful that the American government has worked through the latest fiscal crisis.  I am not going to get into the politics around it, just that it even affected Haigazian University.

A program that I very much respect here at Haigazian is the sponsoring of a group of students drawn from all parts of Lebanon in an intense educational program with the intent of developing leaders.  This is an American Aid project.  The US government particularly likes working through a place like Haigazian because this university has the reputation for being diligent, faithful to the program, and has quality academic standards.  I also like the American Aid program because it goes the extra mile with students in developing and encouraging leadership skills as well as “social awareness.”

One example—in an effort to develop both social awareness and leadership skills, students in the American Aid program were broken down into teams.  Each team was challenged to develop a business model that would “A” make money, and “B” be socially responsible.  One group developed a plan and is implementing it on teaching refugee women how to prepare inexpensive, healthy meals and selling them.  Not only did they develop a concept but are trying to make it work.  Another group developed an “Eco-friendly” tourism company.  Their goal was to introduce people to non-traditional areas of Lebanon, meet people, experience local crafts, experience “touristic” places while being tourists.  The model was that money could be made while also being responsible.  Sshh…don’t tell my American pastor, Nairy; my Armenian pastor, Soloman; or my international pastor, Robert—but I cut church one Sunday to join them.  I had a fabulous experience.  I had some experiences that I have not had with other tours.  One part of their tour included having interaction with an organization that works with blind people and their having a trade.  Incidentally, I had to pay, just like I would for any other tour—okay, I got a Haigazian discount—thank you very much.

One stop, a church in Qaraoun, was a model of interfaith respect.  We met with the priest who told the story of the recent remodel of the church, which cost millions.  They had been approached by a Muslim who wanted to help them with a project involving restoration.  The church put together a thorough remodeling project of building and grounds.  They divided it into three parts and asked the “donor” to consider one part, whichever he wanted.  His answer was “no”, he wanted to do all of it.  As a Muslim, he wanted to help restore the church because in his community both Muslims and Christians respect one another.  The priest then mentioned that in one of his villages, no funeral takes place without both Christian and Muslim involvement.  We are in a part of the world where we hear stories of division, and yet there continue to be stories and places where there is a profound respect for one another.  Thank you Qaraoun—a story which I learned on World Wide Communion Sunday.

I don’t know if either of these programs will survive…they might.  What I know is that I have met students who are not only talking in theory about concepts, but they are putting concepts into practice—how to be leaders, being socially responsible, how to develop viable projects.

One of the students of this program is very active in Spiritual Life and is nudging/encouraging us to be involved in prison ministry.  She knows there is a limit to what Spiritual Life can do and is asking much broader questions of how she can be a transformative presence in an area that needs extensive outreach.  I am wondering where this will lead.  At the very least, I expect that we will have a visit to a prison bring a program of “cheer” as well as other necessary items.  It is apparent that there is incredible need and suffering in the Lebanese prison system.

Bruce Schoup serves at Haigazian University, Beirut, Lebanon as Chaplain.