Lebanese Grass Root Student Associations appeal to the Lebanese President

23Sep10

Back in 2007, Lebanese students in Montréal launched after much realisation, a need for a Lebanese Student Federation.

Tollab – serves as an umbrella for the rest of the associations, it prospers based on the idea that it was formed through an LSA initiative.

Committed to facilitating Lebanese students’ stay in Montreal, while safeguarding their cultural heritage, Tollab’s executive board has for the fourth consecutive year been the main driver in uniting, helping, and strengthening Lebanese students.

Tollab was established with roughly 1,400 members and currently encompasses around 1,650 students.

This summer, 10 Tollab and LSA representatives held a fruitful meeting with President Michel Sleiman at the Baabda Presidential Palace. Among those who met Sleiman was Tollab’s vice president for Coordination Rani Baroud.

Baroud explained that the purpose of the meeting with Sleiman was to get Tollab recognized as the official Lebanese students’ ambassadors in Montreal. “We want all students who go abroad to Montreal to know we’re there,” Baroud said, while stressing that the group’s aim was not to encourage students to leave their country.

When the students approached Sleiman with the idea of placing Tollab pamphlets in the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon, he frowned upon the idea, thinking that it could potentially drive away Lebanese youth and encourage them to emigrate.

But Baroud made it very clear that motivating Lebanese students to study in Montreal was certainly not one of Tollab’s goals. “We are not encouraging Lebanese youth to study abroad. Our target is students who have already chosen to study in Montreal … we’re just facilitating everything for them, specifically for students who don’t have any family there.”

According to Baroud, Tollab’s main purpose was to help newcomers with the integration process while simultaneously reminding them of their Lebanese heritage.

The 2008 Lebanese Festival in Montreal dawned upon Tollab as an excellent way to promote their image and vision, while simultaneously getting its members involved in a cultural event. Tollab was granted the largest stand and used it to create an art exhibition commemorating present and inspiring Lebanese artists in Montreal. Paintings capturing Lebanon’s breathtaking nature, photographs that portrayed the essence of a war-torn civilization, and sculptures where the main attractions in this stand. Over 4,000 people, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, visited the Tollab stand and participated in the vote for best piece.

To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Gibran Khalil Gibran’s death, Tollab organized a play, Les Esprits Rebelles, in honor of the renowned Lebanese writer. Henri Zoghaib, head of the Gibran Khalil Gibran Worldwide Committee, gave Tollab the rights to reproduce the play along with the official script. The cast and production team included six Lebanese students and two Quebecois students. On September 28, 2008 the play was reenacted in an auditorium where 400 seats were filled.

The “Guinness Book of World Records” was another way to promote Lebanon and Tollab. In the 2009 Lebanese Festival in Montreal, Tollab managed to break the previous record of 2,000 people by gathering 4,475 people to dance in the world’s largest Dabke chain for five minutes straight.

In addition to cultural activities and events, one of Tollab’s main purposes is to grant deserving Lebanese students funds to pursue their education.

CAFEL (Comité d’Aide Financière aux Étudiants Libanais ) a sub-committee of Tollab, was founded in 2007 by the AELEP (Association des Étudiants Libanais de l’École Polytechnique) and later adopted by Tollab. In 2008, CAFEL gave away over 12 bursaries totaling roughly $17,000 to outstanding and deserving students.

Last year, this number increased to $20,000, due in part to a generous donation of $10,000 from Sleiman.

A selection committee made up of university professors, financial experts, and businessmen choose those who benefited from financial aids. This year, the selection committee decided on the beneficiaries based on two criteria: financial need and academic excellence. As a result 50 percent more students applied for scholarships.

During their latest visit to Beirut, the Tollab delegation briefed Sleiman about those who benefited from aid.

Tollab’s meeting with the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Haytham Jomaa, was another successful endeavor.

Tollab thoroughly discussed the concerns and demands of Lebanese students in Montreal with Jomaa.

Jomaa expressed particular interest with Tollab’s goal to become the ambassadors of Lebanese students studying in Montreal. Jomaa and Tollab discussed practical steps to be undertaken to achieve that aim.

When asked about the difficulties faced while trying to attract Lebanese students to join Tollab, the group’s vice president explained that Lebanese students abroad fell into two categories.

“There are those who are extremely attached to Lebanon and who like to meet up with their countrymen and those Lebanese who don’t want anything to do with their country,” Baroud said, adding that both groups were interested in joining Tollab since the ambiance the group offers during its events was not strictly Lebanese.

According to Baroud, one of Tollab’s main goals was to establish an “automatic” funding system for CAFEL.

Future goals also include a twinning program where Tollab members are assigned to newcomers to get them familiar with the city.

According Baroud, the student group’s ultimate goal was to widen its horizon by becoming internationally recognised.

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