Elissa is a social activist and project manager with the Development for People and Nature Association in Lebanon. A passionate trainer and educator, she brings together Lebanese and Syrian youth through arts to build understanding and peace.
Meet Elissa Shamma, Lebanon
Elissa works with youth to share their personal stories through videos, theatre productions, music and comic books. In doing so, young people from different communities learn about each other, and develop leadership and conflict resolution skills.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Lebanon has accepted more refugees than any other country. About 25% of Lebanon’s population are refugees. This rapid migration has put enormous pressure on Lebanon’s infrastructure and financial resources, and has spurred a racist, ultra-nationalist backlash from some Lebanese citizens.
Elissa’s organization strives to defuse these social tensions in Lebanon. The work of Elissa and her colleagues also aims to restore a sense of
dignity to refugees who have lived through traumatic experiences and lost so much upon leaving their homes.
The positive impact inspires Elissa every day.
“A young Syrian boy approached me after summer camp and told me, ‘This is the first time in the year I have been here that a Lebanese looked me straightin the eye,’” says Elissa. “This broke my heart. Why would such a young boy, being a refugee in another country, having seen his own home and country destroyed in front of his eyes, have to live with this feeling of being hated in a community he didn’t even choose but was obliged to go to because it was either this—or death?”
Through the arts, Lebanese and Syrian youth are breaking down barriers between communities, becoming friends and building peace. “We can see transformations in front of our eyes,” says Elissa. “That is where we see the hope and we need to keep that hope alive.”
Visit Development for People and Nature Association’s website.
Lebanon blocks Syrian refugees from entering: United Nations, Reuters, October 13, 2014.
Lebanon: Rising Violence Targets Syrian Refugees, Human Rights Watch, September 30, 2014.