1- When did you get the idea of “Lebanon: One Story at a Time”?
We launched it on the 29th of November 2015. The page was inspired by “Humans of New York”, a photography project created and launched by Brandon Stanton. Camille first stumbled upon the idea during the summer; to create a page that create a sense of unity and belonging-to-the world amongst the people of Lebanon by sharing their stories. Although Camille has never had the courage to kickstart a project like this in Lebanon, her fear that it wouldn’t work dissipated after meeting Naji. Camille once made the proposition to Naji, and they agreed on working together and bringing about an audience before his scheduled leave to Houston in the beginning of the 2016.
We hope that maybe one day, we can shed some light on Lebanon and paint it in its true colors. We have decided to evade the political, the religious issues, the civil strife and revolutions and riots; all these aspects that have limited the Western perception of a country that has now become embedded in stereotype. Instead, we sought its people, the individuals who make up the whole, in all their diversity, their beauty, their complexity. We took to our streets and spoke to our neighbours, our teachers, our families and friends, our grocers and builders, the young, the old, the tired and the tried.
Hopefuls, dreamers alike had a story to share, whether it be personal or general, brief or long, whether as a revelation catered to provide healthy advice to others or as a simple way to let off some steam. It is our intimate journey, an experience we cherish deeply, to connect with the people of Lebanon on a personal level, on a level that the global front hardly ever sees. We are proud to do so, and we hope this is something that will reach ears. At the end of the day, every one has something a voice, something that they have to offer, to contribute to the world. And this translates into a capacity to change the world for the better. We are here for this reason, as a part of the people: we listen. We are a part of this, as those who have committed to lending an ear, to bringing the voices of this country together into one harmonious song. Old, young, successful or still trying: we listen.
Naji: I must say that when Camille approached me, I was excited because I now feel like I have an important cause to rally for while attending to my passion for photography.
2- Who does what and how do you manage the tasks?
Before Naji moved to Houston, we were both involved on the ground; in taking portraits of people around Lebanon. Adding to the fieldwork, we decided to reach out to friends and family where we managed to get even more stories. Once we started breaching more territory, we had a clearer vision on how to ask the questions and how to get people to talk. Handling the page was not quite as easy as we thought, although with time (as we got more and more known), it became easier and we started enjoying the whole process: going up to people, and talking to them became less threatening and more exciting.
3- Did you find it hard to manage such a project at first?
For now, Camille is doing the fieldwork and portrait shooting. Alongside Naji, we are managing the page and building on connections and contacts. We note that these stories are said by the people themselves, sometimes it is required that we rewrite a story either because they are in Arabic or are awkwardly structured. This is where we like to thank Natasha Khalife and Ziad Saliba for the continuous support in revising and providing proper semantic help whenever stories need it. It is a challenging task to manage a page. However we are determined on keeping our focus because in the long run, we hope to effect real positive change.
4- How do you approach people on the streets? Do people find it hard to understand what you do?
The Lebanese society is a society laced with undeniable pressures and stresses; most of our people aren’t feeling so secure. It isn’t rare getting people who look down on you, question your work, underestimating our goal or our seriousness. At times, we are given answers that are either brief or lack the basic essence of a substantial or complete story. So it is a little difficult to gather stories from people on the streets.
5- What is the best story someone ever told “Lebanon: One Story at a Time” in your opinion?
I would say George’s “adopting the three legged dog” story is one that just got us so emotional and so motivated about continuing our project. It sheds light on a harsh truth, a reality that most of us take for granted.
6- Do you think you might run out of interesting stories/people?
We don’t think we can ever run out of interesting stories; everyone has something original, and awe-inspiring to share, simply because there is no one exactly like them who have lived with their unique circumstances.. What makes an individual stand out is simply that they are. They exist in their unique way, with a unique perception and unique circumstances. It doesn’t change that they might not know it. When you talk to someone, we believe that there will always be a subject that draws your attention.
7- What benefits do you think your page is contributing to the Lebanese online society?
Awareness and Hope. That’s the message. In today’s world, the social media factor is so prominent. Anything you need, you can find online. We shed light on people’s achievements, whether they are physical or not. We give the Lebanese society praise to their accomplishments by letting the world know that they exist. These people don’t get rewarded for it. They are rewarding us instead with their ideas, thoughts, hopes and an awareness, one which make us question ourselves – that is what is so special about this project. It is interactive, it is rewarding in different ways, it is all-engaging.
8- What reason would make you stop “Lebanon: One Story at a Time”?
I doubt we will ever stop. Talking to people and hearing their words, their unique message is such a beautiful adventure, a thrill. Luckily – given such short notice – we are growing fast. We haven’t reached the best part yet – it is still a long road ahead. With Anis’ story in mind, we recall this particular quote: “I was so content that I didn’t stop at the first stage. Determination and love for what I am doing helped get to where I am at this point.” It is a long term project, it is like our baby: we need to continue feeding it and raising it so we can be so incredibly proud of it someday.