by Nikki Eckland
?Saturday October 6th PAWAC and The Itoo Society partnered in hosting ‘Why Lebanon Matters’, with discussion lead by Ambassador of Lebanon to the United states Gabriel Issa, Advisor to President Michel Aoun Elias Bou Sabb, and Representative of the US Congress Darin LaHood. Walking into the Itoo Hall was nothing short of beautiful, postcards from Lebanon on each table and white gauze fabric draping the ceiling. There was plenty of time to meet the speakers and make introductions before the discussion began, and a deliciously authentic buffet to welcome listeners into Lebanese culture (not to mention some pretty killer desserts). The panel was enthusiastic and moved across topics with ease, keeping the audience engaged for the duration of the night.
The conversation started by detailing Education in Lebanon, and Elias Bou Sabb as the former Minister of Education and Higher Education was the perfect speaker for this topic. He introduced to the audience the problem of Syrian refugees, and how Lebanon had become burdened with the responsibility of educating refugee children. There are 4 million Lebanese people in Lebanon, and 2 million Syrian refugees, so Syrian children are substantial in their numbers. This is problematic because of the strain it’s putting onto Lebanese educational institutions, who have been forced to divide the school day into two shifts. Even more concerning is the necessity of education, because not adapting the school day to accommodate these children would leave them out on the streets, easy targets for terrorist group recruiters.
The panel moved on to discuss the issue of UN standards of safety for refugees. Lebanon is responsible for providing refugees with important resources and funding. Because of the current state of Syria, Lebanon is required by the UN to cut off these benefits to refugees who have returned to their home country. However, as His excellency Gabriel Issa argues, these UN sanctions are unfairly strict, and require conditions in Syria to be even better than they were before its collapse.
Rep. Darin LaHood returned this sentiment by stating his hopes that these standards might change through participation in future UN summits, agreeing that they should be re-evaluated.
The floor opened for comments near the end of the discussion, allowing the audience to voice concerns and questions. The war between Israel and Lebanon was brought up, and Ambassador Gabriel Issa remarked that Lebanon has not and never will initiate an attack on its neighbors. They do have the right to defend themselves, but want peace between Middle Eastern nations.
Another point that emerged during audience participation was that of Lebanon’s lack of environmental standards, to which the panel responded by explaining Lebanon’s wish to improve.
Overall the night was a combination of great food, beautiful setting, and interesting discussion. We hope to see you at the next event, and thank everyone who attended on Saturday!