Mahmoud Khalil, a refugee living in Lebanon, is a Syrian-Palestinian-Algerian student majoring in computer science and working with an international education-focused NGO called Jusoor. He was a key member of a team of young people that founded an innovative education program for out-of-school Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Mahmoud was one of 25 young civil society leaders from a dozen nations facing violent conflict whom USIP gathered in 2017 for training and mentorship with the Nobel peace laureate and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. In recent years, USIP and the Dalai Lama have joined to strengthen such young leaders, recognizing the outsized role that youth can play in halting the world’s violent upheaval and warfare, which is concentrated in countries with relatively young populations.

Mahmoud describes his experience in the essay below:

For the past five years, I have been working closely alongside Syrian refugees with an organization called Jusoor that focuses on helping Syrian youth realize their potential through programs in the field of education. Being a "double refugee," I have been exposed to two of the most complicated conflicts in the Middle East, the Syrian crisis and the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a Palestinian refugee in Syria and a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, working with people who have had similar experiences was second nature. I worked closely alongside Syrian refugees seeing the struggles that many of them go through specifically when it comes to lack of education.

Refugees Share Common Struggles

During my participation in the USIP exchange program in Dharmsala, I engaged with the Tibetan refugee community in India and was surprised to see how similar different refugee communities were. The Palestinian refugee community in Syria, the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon, and the Tibetan refugee community in India have the same hardships and struggles. All three are looking to continue their lives peacefully and to find ways to collaborate to improve the quality of life. In addition, these communities long to return to their homeland and to live a life of stability and peace. While these three communities did have many similarities, there was one apparent difference that was clear to me during my time there. The Tibetan community had one asset that the other two communities lacked: unity. Under the Dalai Lama the Tibetan refugee community is unified while the Palestinian and Syrian refugee communities are constantly in a leadership crisis.

During the program, through hearing my peers' stories and experiences, I was amazed that our problems had the same nature. People from all over the world came together in one place creating a community of leaders with similar experiences and the same passion to make a difference. Through the conversations, we had and speaking with the Dalai Lama, a door was opened that shed light on the universality of our problems. Many of the issues we are facing in Lebanon are the same as the issues my peers are facing in all different parts of the world.

A Life-Changing Experience

I had always admired the Dalai Lama. When I was a boy, I watched a documentary about him and was mesmerized by his humility, and commitment to human values including forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and self-discipline. I related to the Dalai Lama on a personal level, because at the time I was also a refugee. In addition, I was taken by his approach to liberate his country using peaceful tactics. Meeting with the Dalai Lama was a surreal moment and a completely different experience than just watching him on TV. The way he answered all of our questions with a high level of knowledge and intelligence—and looked at the bigger picture to try and solve some of the most serious issues faced in our world today—was absolutely inspiring.

Returning to Lebanon after spending the week with the Dalai Lama and people of similar interests and goals was a challenge. I returned with a newfound mindset and motivation to work harder and do better. The nature of the work I was doing was still the same, but I was determined to take the advice and lessons I had learned in the previous week and incorporate it into the work I was doing in Lebanon. Through this experience, I was able to better myself in order to better help those who are in vulnerable situations and to push for reform through the field of education.

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