Fellow Since 2009
This profile was prepared when Joanne Bajjaly was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
In a country where geographic and sectarian isolation have prevented the development of national unity, Joanne Bajjaly is creating a new and larger sense of wonder and pride in being Lebanese. Her goal goes beyond tolerance, to appreciation of the country's rich heritage, grounded in its diversity. Joanne is a pioneer is using heritage as a tool for building citizenship and harmony in post conflict countries where confessional divides and psychological barriers prevail. Where history is used by politicians to divide, Joanne uses it to unite by building a national identity to replace existing confessional-based identities. Her approach, now applied in Lebanon equips youth, their teachers and parents with historical knowledge that enables them to move beyond confessional tension to realize they belong to one nation. Initiating school-based field trips through her enterprise "Biladi", Joanne guides children to venture into the unknown - employing historic sites beyond their small towns, to experience culture outside their own sect and environment. Here, in addition to seeing and role-playing in a different time and part of society, they safely begin to interact with and accept Lebanese of different religious and social practices who they otherwise would never meet. This is a preventive and progressive program, extending over time and into new areas of the country. To spread the impact of her initiative, Joanne trains school teachers and local guides to use her methodology and toolkits to present history in an attractive format and use alternative educational methods to introduce students to their common heritage. Joanne also plans to replicate her model by sharing knowledge with other CSOs concerned with peaceful coexistence in ethnic ridden countries in the region, such as Sudan and Iraq, or with countries where citizens do not feel a strong bond with their heritage, such as Egypt. Joanne's efforts to promote peaceful coexistence among Lebanese citizens contrasts with existing approaches; as other initiatives focus primarily on conflict resolution thereby adopting a curative approach as opposed to Joanne's preventive approach, and focusing on dividing factors rather than uniting factors.