Lebanon’s civil war may be over, but it’s no secret that social and religious divisions remain. Finding understanding and common ground between communities is the idea behind a new television series for kids that premiered this month.
Kilna Bil Hayy (All of Us in the Neighbourhood) was created in the hope of enlightening young viewers to the commonalities shared between Lebanon’s different communities.
The 13-part series, which was funded by Denmark’s Rockwool Foundation, focuses on six families that live in the same apartment building. Representing Lebanon’s wealth of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the families are Armenian, Christian, Druze, Palestinian, Shi’a and Sunni. The building has a conscience, personified by a woman called Lina, who gives shrewd advice to the children in times of crisis.
While the children’s parents cannot hear or see Lina, her words of wisdom inspire the children to shake off the cultural and socio-economic prejudices of their parents and to forge deep friendships with their neighbours based on mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and trust.
According to the program’s executive producer, Leena El-Ali, Lina’s mentoring offers the children a more open-minded perspective to that of their parents, adults who are “already set in their ways and not open to change.” The strong friendships formed among the children help to “defuse and repair tension resulting from their parents’ unconscious repetition of the country’s broader trend to reinforce artificial divisions.”
The show’s creator, Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution non-profit, initially came to Lebanon to bring listening and problem solving skills to the country.
The organization decided to create Kilna Bil Hayy after the success of a similar children’s program initiated in Macedonia.
“I think we’re adding value where nobody else is,” said the show’s executive producer, Leena El-Ali, Lina.
The actors use their real names and accents in a bid to authentically represent their communities, she said, unlike other Lebanese television programmes, which use names that don’t indicate a specific religious confession. The program’s scriptwriters likewise hail from different backgrounds.
In the debut episode, a conflict between the Druze and Palestinian families arises when the Druze mother accuses her Palestinian neighbour, who also cleans her house, of stealing a gold necklace. It transpires that the Druze mother’s daughter, Sally, borrowed the necklace without asking permission. After consulting Lina, she helps rebuild the severed relationship between the families.
Although the subject matter is serious, the program still manages to remain humorous and avoids coming across as a dose of lecturing. The series also features more light-hearted episodes that centre on cooperative problem solving, to try and show children that “it only works when you work together”, El-Ali said.
In the words of Nader Noueiri, one of the young actors, they want “to show the world that no matter how much the leaders fight, the reality on the ground is that we all get along and live well together no matter what community we come from.”
Aside from the television series, SFCG is also launching three other nationwide projects aimed at children in Lebanon. The organization will be distributing curricular resources to schools as part of an ongoing listening and problem-solving project for 8 to 14 year olds, as well as activity kits to encourage young people to reflect and practice on the themes presented in the Kilna bil Hayy series.
Watch a music video of the theme song below, sung by the young actors.