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Gustave Cordahi is the founder and executive director of Back to Roots. Cordahi is a Transportation Engineering and Planning senior consultant in the Washington D.C. area. He maintains a leading social, political and educational activism in Lebanon through a tireless involvement with various organizations.
1.) What is Back to Roots?
Back to Roots (BTR) is a Summer Academy Program that aims to engage young adults from the Lebanese diaspora with Lebanon on a multifaceted level. The program introduces its participants to the cultural, geographical, and historical aspects of their homeland. The goal of the Back to Roots Summer Academy is to cultivate a love for Lebanon in young people of Lebanese descent, so that they may become well-informed and passionate ambassadors for the ‘Land of the Cedars’. BTR measures its success on the wisdom, pride, and enthusiasm that each individual participant gains from discovering their Lebanese roots.
2.) What are some of the activities participants engage in? Who will they meet?
The participants take part in daily excursions, meetings with influential Lebanese leaders, and captivating lectures with Lebanese scholars. Follow this year’s edition adventures via: #backtoroots2014 #BTR5 #cedarleaders; or via the BTR Official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BacktoRoots.sa
3.) How is this project funded?
The expenses of the program in Lebanon (excluding airfare costs) are fully covered through our fundraising efforts in North America. We are lucky to have donors who believe in our mission and who keep supporting us year-after-year. We host several fundraisers across North America throughout the year, and many of the parents of BTR alumni are becoming supporters of the program, especially after they witness the enthusiasm of their children after their memorable BTR experiences. Plus, working with the Lebanese Information Center (LIC), a non-profit research and education Institute, also allows us to receive tax-deductible donations in the United States.
4.) How far have you come as an organization since you launched?
This year, we host the fifth edition of the program. We have so far hosted four editions of BTR, with one occurring every summer since 2010. All were successful, and since the first edition, we started engaging past BTR participants in the actual design and growth of the program. That is how our leadership committee is now largely comprised of BTR alumni (This year’s program assistants in Lebanon, Michelle Makhoul and Maya Gebeily, are both BTR alums). Thus, we are turning BTR from a one-time experience to a continuous relationship with the motherland, and this keeps participants involved and engaged in promoting and caring about Lebanon.
5.) What kind of response have you received from Lebanese natives about the Back to Roots program?
We are always humbled when prominent leaders in the country, including the President of Lebanon, welcome us every year and await our visit (even though this
year BTR takes place while Lebanon still does not have a replacement to former President Michel Sleiman unfortunately). But most of all, it’s watching participants call BTR (and Lebanon) ‘a life-changing experience’. That shows us that the effects of the program will be durable and fruitful. Besides, it is always particularly nice to have 2nd and 3rd generation Lebanese discover their roots with us for the first time.
6.) Are the current security challenges in Lebanon changing your trip in any way?
Each year, we face several hurdles, mainly linked to the unstable situation in Lebanon. This summer (and most summers so far), I kept tracking with our advisors and coordinators the risks involved in hosting the program given the current situation. However, our whole message is about the promotion of the culture of life in Lebanon, to counterbalance the devastating cultures of death, weapons, darkness, and extremism that are haunting our country. Providing a safe and enjoyable experience to our participants is our top priority, and our faith allows us to overcome the hurdles every year and to go on with the program. This is a delicate challenge, but I am willing to take it up.
7.) What is the value of going “Back to Roots” and encouraging young people to discover their heritage?
In this day and age, reconnecting with one’s roots has become synonymous with richness – it is not a reflection of extremism or closed-mindedness, but rather a
celebration of openness and diversity. We may be a relatively small country with a minor influence on the international level, but when we see the major contributions of Lebanese individuals in every arena and in every corner of the globe, we wonder why we cannot leverage those achievements to the advantage of our Lebanon? It is mostly due to the fact that our diaspora becomes largely disconnected from Lebanon. Through our experience in North America, we notice
that it may only take the negligence of one generation for a full disconnect with their roots. To care for your motherland, you need to genuinely love it. To love it, you need to know it. To truly know it, you need to experience it first-hand. Only through this route can we hope to have real advocates who serve Lebanon and the Lebanese cause in every position and location worldwide.
8.) How can interested people get involved next year?
We have an online application process: the program is open to all North Americans of Lebanese descent (between 18 and 24 years old of age). In the planning stages of every edition, our leadership committee conducts outreach efforts that go hand-in-hand with our fundraising efforts. In terms of selection, we review and interview applicants, and then we select the participants based on their credentials and on the program’s requirements.
You can find out more about BTR by visiting:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/BacktoRoots.sa
To donate to the Program: http://www.btrlebanon.org/wp/donate/
View more photos from the program below:
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