The challenges faced by Lebanon and the region are self-evident. Cycles of violence have played out repeatedly through the ages. All of this is well documented, but what is less obvious, is how the battles of the past can stay dormant within us from generation to generation, flaring up in moments of perceived threat. And so, whether we are conscious of this or not, we may be reliving the trauma of our parents, grandparents or even long dead ancestors.

At the beginning of the civil war in Lebanon, Alexandra Asseily asked herself the question – how could so many people have suddenly transformed from apparently peaceful souls into violent killers – seemingly overnight? Holding this question led to a profound experience. This confirmed her understanding of how the events of a traumatic past are held in memory and deeply affect the present unless the contract between the living and the dead is released through compassion and forgiveness.

The essence of this experience inspired a vision for the Garden of Forgiveness. This was to be a garden sanctuary set in heart of central Beirut, amidst archaeology spanning 3,000 years and surrounded by three churches, three mosques and a shrine to the Virgin Mary – venerated by both traditions. It was to be accessible to people of all backgrounds for peaceful introspection and meditation. The Garden of Forgiveness was realised in 1998 and everything was in place for completion with a due date of 2008. As a result, however, of the violent events of 2005-6, all building came to a halt. The subsequent political stalemate has meant that it has remained in a vacuum ever since.

In order to raise consciousness for this project and the trans-generational message of healing at the heart of it, a conference was organised in LAU Byblos in November 2011 – entitled Healing the Wounds of History, Address the Roots of Violence. A programme of workshops was run throughout 2012-13 building on the approaches and themes raised at the Byblos conference. These, in turn, evolved into the HWH programme.

Facing the tragedy of recent events in the region alone, we naturally feel powerless and overwhelmed. However, by coming together in community we can support each other’s healing journey and begin to release our inherited trauma. By doing this, we can take our place amongst kindred spirits and contribute to the evolution of a positive, peaceful future.

The Purpose

The HWH program has been developed to help to heal the deeper roots of violence. The causes of violence are rooted in recent but also older and even ancient historical grievances, memories and traumas. These psychological roots draw on perceived injustices, and become the sources of violence, especially in acute times of crisis, fear and threat. These driving forces usually remain unexamined. By unfolding and deconstructing them, individuals can begin to understand where many prejudices and impulses for violence against the other are held. The HWH training is concerned with unearthing these deeply rooted identities so that we can begin to reframe/rethink the “self”, humanize the other and improve relationships. To develop capacities at the individual level, helps collective action and peace-building efforts at the group level. This important work then actively supports political, social, economic, and civil endeavours.

The Objectives

To create a community of change agents, field workers and practitioners, who, after appropriate training, are empowered to take and apply the approaches and the powerful content of HWH training into their respective practices within communities in Lebanon. This group will develop themselves individually first and then collectively through experiential learning. This will be done through a mixture of formal training, self facilitated practice sessions and application in the field. To enable this to happen, participants from last year’s programme will receive an additional facilitation training by assisting in the teaching of the following year. This principle can be extended over time, so that the community grows in number, competency and compassion.

The intention is to offer training to teachers, trainers and NGO workers. It is an opportunity to learn change processes by having a direct, personal experience. Beyond this it is hoped that the tools taught will be disseminated as widely as possible in the spirit of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness. The material taught will be experiential and replicable. We shall share and teach tools from a wide range of wisdom traditions: including the world of personal development, the human potential movement and other sources. These tools help to take their users through an effective change process: from awareness to expression to forgiveness and finally to new behaviour.

The training package will also include written material designed to support the application of the tools and processes taught in the various contexts that attendants work in. As part of the training, participants will receive written step by step guidelines on how to apply the various tools.

To learn more about HWH workshops, please refer to the Evaluation Report.