Local municipal council members, heads of unions sharpen their mediation techniques

"In the event of any kind of conflict in my village, I will not hesitate to use my newly acquired mediation techniques and test my skills on the ground," explained Nathalie Badran from Asia Municipality in Batroun, North Lebanon.

Badran, the only female participant in a program on advanced mediation skills organized by the UNDP Peace Building Project at the Four Points Sheraton, Verdun from March 21-23 2011 joined nine other municipal council members, heads of Unions, mayors, deputy mayors and municipality staff in a three-day residential program.

Participants came from Beirut and its suburbs, the South, the Bekaa, the North and Keserwan to deepen their peace building and conflict resolution skills acquired through several training programs with UNDP since 2009.  Complimentary to the training conducted, in 2010, municipal officials were invited to submit proposals to implement peace building oriented projects in their communities. Some 10 municipalities received grants to implement projects including the creation of public spaces, green areas, setting up youth camps and building sports arenas.

Mohammed Saadieh, President of the Union of Denniyeh Municipalities and Mayor of Al-Deir Nbouh Municipality in North Lebanon implemented a project aimed at building the capacities of women in Deir Nbouh village to be more active members of their community and shed light on their potential role in peace building.

Sessions revolved around local leadership, the role of the mediator in the community and conflict resolution skills. As part of the exercises, municipal officials set aside their differences and personal inclinations, worked in groups and participated in role-play exercises including a simulation of a town hall meeting.

Ra’uf el Masri, Deputy Mayor of Mrayjet, a town in the Bekaa which is as yet to hold municipal elections because of internal problems within the community noted the positive dynamics between participants, the UNDP and trainers at the workshop.

At the closing session, the Advisor to the Minister of Interior and Municipalities Rabih el Chaer and Khalil Hajal, Director General of the Directorate General of the Local Administrations and Councils Directorate at the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities joined the group for a Q&A session.

The Ministry representatives listened to participants’ impressions about the training program and discussed current municipal affairs. Hajal used the occasion to call for a "return to the common spaces that traditionally brought people together in Lebanese villages”.

“UNDP has pinpointed the problem at hand, by putting a finger on the wound as we say in Arabic,” said Abdel Salam Khalil, Deputy Mayor of Ghobeiry Municipality.

Another participant stressed that “the skills acquired during this training will contribute to bringing down the sectarian system in Lebanon”.

Launched in early 2007, the UNDP’s Peace Building Project is part of a comprehensive strategy for conflict prevention in Lebanon aimed at initiating social structural change by empowering institutions and civil society stakeholders to make a long-term impact on reconciliation and peace in the country.

More than 600 civil society (youth, educators, media, NGOs and religious leaders) and local government (municipal council members and mukhtars) actors have been sensitized to peace building concepts and engaged in discussions to promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance.