Refugees and marginalized communities in Lebanon and Egypt were the topic of focus in the 5th Student Civic Engagement Conference held by AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS).
Over three days, more than 120 students from AUB and the American University in Cairo (AUC) engaged in roundtable discussions and presented their civic engagement projects to an audience of peers, academics, and practitioners in the field. The projects are the outcome of students’ work throughout the semester in six different service-learning courses taught at either AUB or AUC.
The conference wrapped up with a site visit to the Ghata schools, a portable classroom project launched in the Beqa’a by CCECS under the umbrella of the Syria Relief Project.
For the past 10 years, the AUB-AUC collaboration to bridge theory with practice in service-learning has inspired students to explore work in the humanitarian field and study the impact this work has on communities. Guest speakers are invited to share their experiences in the field, answer questions, and advise students interested in pursuing humanitarian careers, research, or voluntary work.
Guest speakers this year were AUB graduates working for underserved communities in Lebanon. They shared with the participants what led them to work in the humanitarian/civic society field and what they are currently doing to impact the communities they work in. Each speaker was allocated a panel and a roundtable discussion that followed.
Sara Mishly from Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, which facilitates psychosocial, medical, and physical rehabilitation for survivors of torture, spoke about mental health services for vulnerable populations.
Guest speakers of the second panel were Tamara Loutfi and Hussein Ismail from a pro-active youth initiative called 4 All Causes spoke about how they are advocating and providing primary healthcare in Lebanon’s marginalized communities.
“Supporting service-learning is a major component of the Center’s operations and this conference highlights the commitment of faculty members at AUB and AUC to engage their students in addressing some of the most challenging issues by working closely with underserved communities in Lebanon and Egypt,” Rabih Shibli, Director of CCECS, told us.
Student civic engagement is one of CCECS’s multidisciplinary programs that brings students from various faculties to engage in unstructured environments through developing structured service-learning activities. Service learning is a teaching method which incorporates into course requirements of meaningful engagement that tackles pressing challenges facing the respective communities with a relevant academic focus.
“[Civic engagement] lets you grow you as a person and you learn a lot about yourself; forced to challenge your preconceived ideas,” Zeina Lawen, a visiting student, told us. “We are learning the humanitarian aspect to life and it’s a joy that can’t be fed by anything else. When you are helping others you are also helping yourself.”
This semester, faculty and students participated from AUB’s Psychology Department (course: Children and War); Political Science and Public Administration Department (courses: Leadership, Democracy, and Civil Engagement; Peer-to-peer Challenging Extremism through Digital Activism); and the Olayan School of Business (course: Marketing for Social Change).
From AUC, the Department of Rhetoric and Composition (Advanced Research Writing and Cross Cultural Collaboration) as well as the Department of Psychology (Advanced Community Psychology) participated.
“It’s been a perspective-changing experience,” Nour Abdelbaki, a senior in AUB’s Psychology Department, told us. “We came into the course thinking about ourselves and were overwhelmed at the work load, but throughout the program that all changed. Going to the Ghata schools was not a requirement any more, it was about seeing the refugee children and wanting to give back on some level.”