Home of Hope is a non-profit organization which serves the misfortunate, abused, abandoned, and orphaned children in Beirut, Lebanon. The kids who live at the Home of Hope are there for different reasons. Some are Syrian refugees, some were once living on the streets of Beirut, some were victims of abuse, some have no parents capable of taking care of them.
World Story Exchange teachers Scott and Lindsay travelled to Beirut to work with the children at Home of Hope on a series of art and documentary storytelling projects. For many of the students Arabic was a common language, so we worked with a local university student named Ali to help translate during our teaching and also with the subtitles for many of the stories. Ali was patient and precise, one of the best translators we have worked with.
We always develop projects collaboratively with partners, and this was no different. Director Brady Black works tirelessly to keep Home of Hope running and provide educational programming for the students. Before the project we asked Brady about some of his needs during the 2 week project window. One was that the children have an educational and artistic outlet during their Christmas break from school. The other, more nebulous need, was for the children (predominantly Muslim) to be seen in a better light by the people in the surrounding neighborhood (predominantly Christian). So we designed a project to keep the students occupied and attempt to break down the stereotypes in the neighborhood.
Following several days of training with the cameras, and developing rapport and trust with the students, we went on several photo walks around the neighborhood. Our mission was to be creative and document, and also to meet people and show how mature and studious the kids could be. The high point was meeting a neighbor who invited the students inside his home for tea, music and conversation.
While stereotypes between wealthier Christians and poorer Muslims in Lebanon will not be broken in one day, we think our experience in the hills above Beirut shows the cultural bridging power of a documentary storytelling project. The cultural bridging occurs between the story creator and those who participate, whether as a documentary subject or as an audience member. Ultimately the power of cultural bridging through stories is to develop understanding and empathy between those who create the story and those who participate as subject or audience.