From where I stand: “Mediation, to me, means building peace in a peaceful way. Through the initiative, I have come to recognize the key elements that mediation requires at both the community and individual level.”
Cosette Nakhle, 49, is a social worker and Head of the Local Development Bureau at the municipality of Chiyah. Through certified training provided via the support of UN Women and its partners, the Professional Mediation Center (CPM) at the University of Saint-Joseph and International Alert, Cosette has made it her mission to promote peace in her community through her newly acquired mediation skills.
“As long as I can remember, I have been passionate about social work. At just eight years old, the seeds were sown when I joined the youth group of the apostolic movement in my local parish and later the Society of House of Providence “Maison de la Providence”. With these two community groups, I started to take on responsibilities in community projects targeting kids and youth. As I grew older, my responsibilities within these groups increased, and my skills to listen to, follow up with, and be at the service of members of my community continued to develop.
People around me saw how my personality aligned with social work, and their encouragement motivated me to pursue a career in this field by obtaining a teaching Master’s in Social Work. I dove into my social work career headfirst and quickly fell in love with it. The impact it had on my life was profound. Today, I am privileged to hold since 2011 the position of Head of the Local Development Bureau at the municipality of Chiyah, being a Social Work Specialist.
Following the 2006 Lebanon War I collaborated on the implementation of development projects conducted with local municipalities. In 2021, as part of a UN Women project, I was approached by the Professional Mediation Center (CPM) at the University of Saint-Joseph and selected, following a competency-based interview, to undertake a 9-month series of trainings on mediation. In fall 2022, together with three other trained women mediators, I launched a local mediation initiative in my community, in Chiyah - an area located on the old demarcation line during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) - to actively involve youth as agents of change to promote positive peace in their communities.
I saw this as an opportunity to actively contribute to building positive peace in my community and grabbed it with both hands. I chose to focus on my community in Chiyah to put an end to the negative stereotypes that are still associated with it. Using my newfound skills, I conducted a series of calls and consultations to identify groups of youth that would be interested in joining an upcoming initiative.
This is how I launched a mediation initiative with the primary objective of creating a safe space for dialogue and interaction among young women and men. Eventually, the initiative brought together 15 young people (15-20 years old) from different cultures, backgrounds, and civil society organizations involved in social work. As trained women mediators, we spearheaded the efforts and led on four sessions, 3 hours each, focusing on positive communication, conflict management and self-awareness, including ways to foster acceptance of each other and to limit conflicts despite our differences.
During the first session, participants expressed differing views, but with our newly acquired mediation skills and as the session progressed, we helped the youth to interact and share. In this safe space they freely expressed themselves, shared personal and emotional experiences. Witnessing their newfound ease in expression filled me with pride. Participants not only became more open and expressive, but also recognized and relayed the positive impact within their own daily lives and communities. The youth proved themselves as positive agents of change, eager to make a difference in the environments they had grown up in, by sharing what they have experienced with their entourage and organizations. The young participants are still showing up regularly and participating in joint projects when invited. We noticed that many of them are open to change.
Mediation, to me, means building peace in a peaceful way. Through the initiative, I have come to recognize the key elements that mediation requires - neutrality, active listening, objectivity, and a deep understanding of the complexities inherent in conflicts, at both the community and individual level.
Moving forward, the success of engaging youth and building trust lies in our ability to listen and understand them. As a social worker, mediator, and advocate for community engagement, I am committed to ensuring that the voices of the youth are heard, and their aspirations realized. I hope we can continue this journey of empowerment, peace, and positive transformation in Chiyah and beyond.
I believe that what sets women apart in the realm of mediation is their ability to bridge divides, foster trust, and genuinely listen and care. Women's roles as mediators and peace builders are invaluable when it comes to resolving conflicts, preventing them, and rebuilding trust within communities. It is crucial that our voices, as women, are not overlooked in this vital work.”
*Cosette is one of 240 local women mediators who are actively leading on community mediation initiatives across Lebanon, as part of UN Women’s ‘Women Peace and Security in the Arab States Phase III’ project, implemented in partnership with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), the Université Saint Joseph Professional Mediation Center and International Alert, generously supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.
 The 2006 Lebanon war lasted for 33 days and claimed 1,149 lives in the country.