“Lebanon gave me the adventure of my life”

“Lebanon gave me the adventure of my life”

Tom Fletcher interview by Dunia Hassan

1. What would you take from Lebanon as memories/experiences?

Lebanon gave me the adventure of my life and extraordinary friends. I have often spoken about our hopes for Lebanon 2020, the Lebanon that you are all building. People will look back and ask: how did Lebanon survive? But we already know the answer: never underestimate the resilience of the Lebanese people. I’m still buying shares in Leb2020. ‘So….Yalla Bye’ blog says it all.

2. What are the main sectors that you are currently focusing on to sustain Lebanon?

We are working in all areas, however our main priorities are security, prosperity and education in support of the country’s long-term stability.

3. What kind of support are you providing for certain NGOs, (examples and statistics)?

We provide much of our support for the crisis to the UN who then distribute to their NGO partners. However, we do work with some NGOs directly where we feel they have particular expertise that we want to bring into the response. For example we are working with the International Rescue Committee on increasing the use of cash assistance to most vulnerable families (Syrian and Lebanese) and also develop livelihood opportunities for these people.

4. In your opinion, has Lebanon done well in terms of handling the crisis?

Lebanon has done incredibly well under the astonishingly challenging circumstances. I don’t think any other country in the world would be able to withstand a sudden population increase of 25% and maintain a reasonable degree of stability in the way Lebanon has. It is a credit to the resilience of the country and its principle of co-existence that a burden of this magnitude has been borne without widespread conflict, and with local mayors managing the difficult situation with creativity and pragmatism. However, this is not to belittle the impacts of the crisis which have been significant and the international community must continue to do more to help. We welcome the leadership of the Lebanese Government of the crisis which has been more apparent in the last year.

5. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel

There is always light at the end of a tunnel. I believe that the forces holding Lebanon together remain stronger than those pulling it apart.

6. What advise do you give a) to the Lebanese government; b) to the Lebanese people

They say that Lebanon is a graveyard for idealism. I believe that you can defy the history, you can defy the geography, you can defy the politics. You can and you will build the country you deserve. I remain positive about this country and its future. It is up for the Lebanese to decide the road they wish to choose.

7. Do you think there is sufficient cultural and educational cooperation between Lebanon and the UK?

Education is one of our flagship areas of cooperation with the Lebanese Government. We began by providing textbooks to all students in public schools. We are now proud to be working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education as it ramps up its ambition on the Reaching All Children With Education (RACE) plan – aiming to bring a further 100,000 Syrian children into public schools this September as well as improving the public education system over the longer term. As well as funding, we also provide technical support through our funding for the Ministry’s RACE project Management Unit and have placed a member of our own staff in the Ministry to provide additional advice. DFID Secretary of State Justine Greening announced last month a range of new programmes from the UK to strengthen vulnerable states. Earlier in July there was an increase in funding to up to $31 million for education in Lebanon in preparation for enrolment in September, bringing the UK’s overall total support to Lebanon over $315m.

The British Council has been a long partner of Lebanon since 1946 and through this shared history they have grown and nurtured new opportunities for Lebanon and the UK and built sustainable relationships. They have several programmes running throughout the country in Education, Society and Arts bringing in the best of the UK’s creative talents, expertise in education and contribute to a more inclusive and open society.

8. What is it that you like best about Lebanon, and the Lebanese people

As I said when I first came this country has bewitched, bedazzled and bewildered me and it continues to do so. What is great about this country is that through its diversity, it has managed to remain the best place to take the pulse of the Arab world. I have also learned to never underestimate the resilience of the Lebanese people.

9. What are the UK government priorities in terms of funding for 2015?

The UK government will continue to support Lebanon through our work on security and prosperity in support of the country’s long term stability. We will continue to contribute to the country’s economic growth and work with the Lebanese Armed Forces and security agencies in support of Lebanon’s stability and security.

The Department for International Development (DFID) will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians in Lebanon. We are looking expanding our public education system to take in more Syrian children while protecting the quality for Lebanese pupils and reaching additional children through non-formal education. We have also projects running to enhance employment opportunities for young people in the Bekaa Valley and are working with the 48 most affected municipalities to support mayors to manage their local infrastructure and economic challenges.

10. You have worked closely with the UN in Lebanon; what would your advice for the UN to further develop their mission and work in the country?

There are many UN agencies operating in Lebanon so the most important thing is ensuring each sticks to its area of comparative advantage and that there is excellent coordination and complementarily between all. This extends to other international agencies too; for example, there could be an even better division of labour between the UN and the World Bank. The job here is big enough for everyone to have a distinct role. Excellent work is being done, but we can always strive to improve.