Nov 19, 2018

Last week, two playgrounds and communal public gathering place were inaugurated by the Netherlands ambassador to Lebanon, H.E. Jan Waltmans. The spaces were co-designed by the Syrian and Lebanese communities of the town of Kawkba with assistance from VNG International and the expert input of public planners from Lebanon and the municipality of The Hague.

The ambassador was received by the mayor of Kawkaba and the Union President of Mount Hermon Union, to which Kawkaba belongs. He was also received by roughly two dozen Syrian children who had already broken in the new playing equipment and who therefore hardly noticed his presence.

Kawkaba is a hilltop town near the border with Syria. It housed 1.000-1.500 Lebanese inhabitants. Since the start of the Syrian war, an estimated 1.200 refugees have settled around the bottoms of the hillslopes in unfinished housing and unused garages. Due to their physical segregation, there was little contact between the original Lebanese inhabitants and the new arrivals. From our interviews with members of both groups it was clear that fear of the unknown others largely ruled their relationships. This created tension that put a further strain on their relationships. On top of that, the municipality of Kawkaba felt a responsibility to represent solely their Lebanese constituency and its fears, ensuring Syrian refugees did not receive adequate protection.

To break the negative cycle, VNG International, through the Local Government Resilience Programme (LOGOReP), sought change by redeveloping the public space of Kawkbaba in order to attract people from both communities to go outside and meet each other. With the help of public planners in Lebanon and of the municipality of The Hague, we invited inhabitants of all colours, Syrians, Lebanese, women, men, children, to co-design shared public spaces. For the first time, people from both sides discussed a common project for their community. A project for which they feel a shared responsibility. Because we put the new playgrounds below the hill, near the Syrian places, it ensured more acceptance by the Lebanese for its shared usage. Finally, the municipality of Kawkaba now feels the responsibility to care for and protect the whole of their community, Lebanese and Syrians alike.

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