By Kazeem Ugbodaga
Ten Nigerian writers who travelled to Lebanon to participate in an exchange programme under the Study Abroad In Lebanon (SAIL) project, have returned to the country and recounted their experience in the foreign land.
The 10 writers left the shore of the country on 13 September, 2017 to participate in the 10-day exchange programme, which held between 14 and 24 September in Lebanon. The programme was the second edition.
The first edition of the SAIL project was held in August 2016 when five Nigerian students travelled to Lebanon for the exchange programme to broaden their knowledge.
The programme is an initiative of NDU’s Benedict XVI Chair in collaboration with the Cedars Institute of Lebanon and the Wole Soyinka Foundation in Nigeria.
The writers arrived the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, via an Ethiopian airline at about 12:20 p.m. on Sunday.
The participants are Adenle Oloruntoba, Rev. Sister Mary Aboekwe, Oladele Faji, Khalid Imam, Ms Salamatu Sule, Mrs Kassima Okani, Wole Adedoyi, Ms Blessing Christopher, Temi Soyinka and Christian Nayamali
The writers who were very elated recounted their experiences in Lebanon, describing their stay in the foreign land as worthwhile.
Adenle Oloruntoba, one of the participants at the exchange programme, said that they had learnt so much from Lebanon in terms of preservation of culture, disclosing that the works of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ was still being taught in Lebanese universities.
Also, Ms Salamatu Sule, another writer said Nigeria and Lebanon shared many things in common, as she was captivated by the people’s preservation of their culture and how they embraced dialogue to settle rifts among themselves.
According to her, there was the need for Nigeria to copy the Lebanese’s template of conflict and dispute resolution mechanism.
Another participant, Rev. Sister Mary Aboekwe described the exchange programme as a memorable one as participants were able to explore opportunities in the country.
She explained that before embarking on the journey, she had only associated Lebanon with war but that her perception changed during the programme, saying that the people had moved on despite the war experienced in that nation.
According to Aboekwe, no society is perfect “but we have so much to learn from Lebanon; they value dialogue so much, especially among people of different religions. Most functional universities in Lebanon are owned by individuals, mostly churches… Lebanon is home; a place to be.”
Other participants also said their experiences during the exchange programmes were worthwhile and commended the Wole Soyinka Foundation for given them the opportunity to explore other climes and that they would put what they had learnt into practice for a better Nigeria.
However, during the programme, the writers engaged in an intensive 10-day course with over eight hours of daily contact and interaction with various faculties, guest lecturers and officially certified tourist guides at the Cedars Institute in Lebanon.
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka had before the departure of the 10 writers for Lebanon in Lagos said the second edition of the project had an increase in the number of participants, with the hope that a larger number of participants would be expected next year.
He said the number of participants depended on the sponsorship arrangement, while calling on individuals, corporate bodies and governments to key into the project by sponsoring people vetted by the foundation for the exchange programme, as the participants would acquire useful knowledge during the programme.
Facilitator of the SAIL Project, Dr. Habib Jafaar had said the writers would engage in a 10-day intensive course programme to be co-taught by three to six faculties with different specialization. The faculties are Philosophy, Theology, World and Ottoman History and Art and Architectural History.
“The distinguishing feature of this course is that it combines and fuses rigorous academic knowledge with first-hand experience of historical sites of global and regional significance. It will focus on the historical foundation of Lebanon as a geopolitical strategic region that sets the stage for the rise of Phoenician civilization and will examine its emergence as a hub of international trade of global significance, among others,” Jafaar said.
According to him, the course would enable students assess and evaluate historical and philosophical concepts both methodologically and critically, as well as enable students reflect, think and write critically about their own experiences confronting new cultural context, and several others.
He added that the course would introduce students to new concepts and would challenge their conceptions of the region while it would allow students understand some of the major themes of World History from the unique vantage point of Lebanon.
“It will complement lectures with first-hand experiences of UNESCO world heritage sites and other historically significant areas. It will expose students to the culture of dialogue and its implementation within Lebanon society. It will make possible for Nigerian students to interact with Lebanese students and society in various contexts,” Jafaar explained.