Annual NGO forum contributes to a new generation of civic activists

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Nearly 100 local, regional, and international community-serving organizations shared their missions and initiatives across Lebanon during the 2019 NGO Forum organized by AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) in collaboration with Saint Joseph University (USJ) on April 15-16, 2019. This year’s forum emphasized the role of higher education institutions, United Nations agencies, and local organizations in responding to societal challenges and equipping the youth with skills to become active agents for change.

During the forum’s opening ceremony, CCECS Director Rabih Shibli said that “Civic engagement emerges at the intersection of pressing societal challenges, institutional mission, and academic leadership, and this is how AUB has actively contributed throughout much of its more than 150-year history where students, faculty, and staff from throughout the university have volunteered their time, energy, and expertise working with marginalized communities.”  

UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini and Dr. Pascal Monin representing USJ Rector Father Salim Daccache S.J. both spoke of the importance of youth engagement as a foundation for active citizenship and contributions to civil society.

Keynote speakers from Ruwwad Al Tanmiya—Founder Fadi Ghandour, who is also an AUB trustee, and Regional Director and Head of Programs Samar Dudin—presented their organization’s dynamic model of combining participatory community development with youth empowerment to disrupt the status quo and catalyze social transformation for a better future for over 14 years, starting in Jordan and expanding to Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon.

“Society has forgotten individuals who live on the margins while people from the private sector sit on the margins voluntarily,” said Ghandour in his address. He added that marginalized communities' most acute sense of injustice is their invisibility. “Once you go to the communities and ask how you can help, you will have a flood of people coming to you with a laundry list of long neglected basics of life, which may be divergent from the original mission of the organization… But to gain their trust we delivered on every single request.”

Dudin highlighted how the organization engages youth scholarship recipients to give back to their communities as volunteers in their innovative programming—driven by members of marginalized communities themselves—to tackle societal challenges.

After the forum, NGOs welcomed students and the university community at their booths where they shared about community work as diverse as education, gender equity, legal support, human rights, health awareness and services, and the environment, to name only a few of the issues represented. The annual two-day forum serves as a reciprocal platform for both NGOs and students to connect and engage through interactive discussions and opportunities to identify volunteer and internship placements that match students’ interests and skills with NGOs’ needs.

Linking AUB students with diverse and credible community-serving organizations is at the core of CCECS’ mission to facilitate transformative education, whether through community engaged learning; leadership development for scholarship programs; or extracurricular civic engagement opportunities for all AUB students. Through this annual event, and hand-in-hand with community-serving organizations who welcome and mentor student volunteers and interns, AUB and USJ are contributing to the emergence of a new generation of civic activists to envision and lead progressive change for our region.