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By Laudy Issa
“Hummingbirds focuses on doing deep work with girls at a young age so that they have resilience in life and can support each other.”
A three-day camp developed the leadership skills and strengthened the resilience of Lebanese and Syrian young women through practical creative exercises that advocated empowerment, teamwork, and community-building.
The “Hummingbirds” leadership program from WE4L partner Global DreamWeb foundation holds these sessions with trainers Imane El Hayek and Shahed Kseibi to create a new generation of leaders, connecting women from different backgrounds and engaging them within a community that aims to improve society-at-large.
“The first time I went to a camp, I was very shy and quiet,” said Loulou, one of the participants from the Hummingbirds program’s very first session back in 2015. At the latest camp, which took place in the last week of July, Loulou would return as a team leader to a younger generation of female leaders.
“It’s only natural. But then I started to realize that I had no reason to be shy. What I had to say was valuable and right, so I started speaking out more and more,” shared Loulou, not the only woman who struggles to speak out.
Traditional environments teach women to shy away from speaking out, often hindering them from seeking leadership positions. Even women who are actively involved in Lebanese political parties, as seen in a case study done by WE4L partner Lebanon Support, acknowledged the subjective factors that lead many women to avoid “arguing for their legitimate access to leadership positions.” Through these camps, Global DreamWeb teaches young women to occupy more space.
The Self: Connecting With Personal Values To Become Leaders
Nestled among the trees in a campsite near the Chouf Cedars Reserve, 30 girls would gather before the start of the Hummingbirds camp’s final day to reflect on what they had learned so far.
“We learned that every girl has her own character,” shared one participant. The Hummingbirds program teaches youth that each leader has her own qualities and characteristics, even asking participants to assign “colors” to each other: Blue reflects calmness and composure, black links back to honesty and straightforwardness, and orange reflects dynamic and energetic individuals, for example.
In stark opposition to the positive traits that participants reflected on, one fifth of respondents who participated in a national public perceptions survey by WE4L and partner Beyond Reform & Development held negative stereotypes about women that could impede their performance in leadership positions. Some of these stereotypes, which men were twice as likely to hold, include the belief that women are more likely to give up under pressure, are more emotional, and are more submissive. By countering these narratives, Global DreamWeb helps young women realize their potential as leaders.
“Hummingbirds looks to move people from hopelessness to finding power from within,” said Yvonne Daher, one of the founders of Global DreamWeb in Lebanon. “We’re hoping to teach young girls how to take back the authority, and that they in turn teach their siblings and friends outside of this program how to find their own space within a confined space. That could happen through knowing their own strength, have excellent communication skills and know how to pursue their own dreams.
This day would focus on storytelling, with journalist and art curator Sherry Al-Hayek teaching the participants about the basic components that make up stories, how to develop their own narratives, how to create a cohesive tale with the rest of their team, and present their final story in a visually-appealing way.
At the end of the day, the stories reflected different personal values that they believed in. From acting out a story about friendship and bullying to cutting out signs and drawings related to perseverance and the importance of education, the Syrian and Lebanese girls shared stories they could relate to in inventive and original ways.
Yvonne Daher described the “small revolutions” that have taken place after girls attend a Hummingbirds session, from them refusing to be spoken to in an authoritarian way at school to gaining the confidence to take up more space and become authentic, passionate leaders.
Friendships: Bridging the Gap Between Syrian and Lebanese girls
In a time when racism and discrimination against Syrian refugees is rampant in Lebanon, Hummingbirds builds bridges between two communities that have been pitted against each other in mainstream media.
While the teams were preparing to share their stories, one girl was tasked with reading out the script a team had developed. Facing difficulties while translating the Arabic formal text into slang, she dropped the paper to the table as if to give up but her teammates banded together to support her. Their motivation and encouragement pushed her to try again, and succeed.
“Hummingbirds brought us together with people from different religions and different countries,” said Lama, another one of the original Hummingbirds who would go on to train new participants as a team leader from Aley. The 16-year-old took part in creating the camp’s program, improving on the best and most memorable bits from the sessions she previously participated in.
“Without thinking about all our differences, we exchanged numbers, kept in contact, and became friends,” she added while thoughtfully dividing Hummingbirds beads into bags that the camp’s participants could turn into bracelets.
The Hummingbirds program also connects young women from different backgrounds by encouraging them to cooperate and collaborate on different projects. Syrian and Lebanese girls used each other’s strengths to present the best story, with the camp providing them with a mutual goal that teaches them the importance of dialogue.
Today, research from the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality highlights that only 20 percent of women in Lebanon work or are actively seeking jobs despite women making up a large percentage of university graduates. The valuable skills, including the ability to effectively communicate an idea within and to a crowd, gained at the Hummingbirds camp double as tools that young women can use to firmly establish themselves at work and in public space.
The World: Caring For The Environment and Entrepreneurship
Holding the camp at a cedars’ reserve played a part in connecting people with nature, and harnessing a sense of responsibility towards their environment. Participants were also divided into teams that were responsible for cleaning up, taking care of food and plates, time management, and handling water and cups.
“Having the session in nature really allows the environment to be taken in,” said Annette Lechner, another Global DreamWeb founder and Hummingbirds trainer.
Annette and Yvonne also highlighted the impact of their work and how they are pushing towards creating a sustainable and self-sufficient structure to their program.
“The eldest participants from the first group in 2015 became the trainers,” said Annette, “By having them take over, it allows Hummingbirds to organically grow.”
Not only does that allow their program to grow, but grants participants the opportunity to utilize the leadership skills they acquired while mentoring even more young women to take up their positions in the future.
Global DreamWeb hopes to package their Hummingbirds program economically, pushing for more people to attend these sessions while maintaining the effect that it has on each girl. The challenge, according to Yvonne, is maintaining a high quality of authenticity to the lessons so the girls stay inspired for greatness.