The ongoing events in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon have left their impact on the economy, the political infrastructure and on the people, both foreigners and nationals alike. While there is a lot of attention focused on the up to date statistics and creation of response plans and aid distribution, there is less dialogue about innovative projects and solutions to combat the influx of refugees from surrounding countries and the problems that follow a spike in population on the host community.
For the first time organized in Lebanon, Spark Talks Beirut, sponsored by Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale (PU-AMI) in Lebanon, brought activists, social and tech entrepreneurs, and humanitarian workers on one stage. Its aim was to create a dialogue, inspire and educate others about new ways to spark social change, Throughout the day, the audience listened to inspiring talks that had the goal to “spark” conversation among today’s social changers. This conference wasn’t your typical listen and watch format. Informal Q&A sessions, one on one interviews, videos, presentations and occasional musical performances created a dynamic atmosphere that was as informative as it was inspiring.
Fabrice Martin, Head of Mission at Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale (PU-AMI) spoke about the increasing implication of the Syrian Crisis on Lebanon and other host countries as well as the future state of the refugees. He discussed how there needs to be more innovative solutions in the realm of advocacy and funding. He started off the conference with an quote from filmmaker Alice Walker, “Activism is the rent I have to pay to live on this planet.”
Aurelie Salvaire is a social entrepreneur, catalyst and curator of TEDx talks in Barcelona. She was one of the key organizers and moderators for the conference. Salvaire didn’t want the typical conference format in which the audience just listens to a speaker.
“I wanted a format that created dialogue and inspiration between the speaker and the audience.I wanted to have Q&A’s so the audience could ask questions. Since I curate and lead many TEDx events, I wanted a range of speakers and mediums used to get their message across. I put a limit of 10 minutes on the speakers so that way we could maintain attention. I wanted the audience to think of speaker as “what do you do and why” with the reaction of ‘ wow that motivated and inspired me.’ A humor and fast approach to spreading ideas about advocacy, funding and social issues.”
Each talk was different from the next. Each talk had a purpose, whether it was to make the audience laugh, to feel inspired or reflective of their own lives and roles in society. I remember vividly the talk of one activist and refugee, Muhammed Aboura. Born in Syria, his grandfather was a refugee from Palestine so his parents were born refugees and now he is caught repeating history. He refers to himself as a Palestinian Syrian Refugee (PSR) who has no passport, just a travel document. He tells the audience that he received a scholarship to go to Malaysia. He was standing in line at the airport with all the required documents when the ticket attendant said he couldn’t board. He watched dogs pass right along to the departure gate.
With a half cracked laugh he said “I saw that dog and thought, ‘What a lucky bitch’. It was the first time I wish I was a dog. I would make a perfect dog. I don’t bark and I bathe myself.”
He ends by saying it would be better if he were Syrian, because as a gay man, he would be given the possibility to seek asylum and have a chance in society. As Palestinian, he finds it more difficult to receive aid and legal status.
“When you think of one PSR, just know that I’m the only one. I know a family who is the same situation as me,” said Aboura.
By the end of the conference, asylum seekers, humanitarian workers, activists and entrepreneurs left the crowd with an abundance of innovative ways to create social change. Co-organzier Martin also took something away from the event
“When I was organizing this, I thought how crazy am I? There is so much work and organization involved. But as I stand here today, I discover the point of views and inspirational messages many of you shared today. It left motivated me to keep spreading positive messages with people like you.”