Background & History

Action for Hope started in summer 2013 as a pilot program under the umbrella of Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy), the leading pan Arab cultural organization and provider of services and support to the independent cultural field in the region.

The genesis of the project was a trip made by a delegation of 17 Arab artists and cultural activists to the Syrian refugee camps in Kilis, Turkey and to nearby camps inside the Syrian border in November 2012.

This diverse group of artists, actors, filmmakers, and writers originally came together with a plan to show the solidarity of the Arab cultural community with the Syrian people in crisis, by bringing donations to the camps, sharing their skills with camp residents through some impromptu cultural workshops or events, and talking to camp residents. This visit was organized independently of any state or institutional support.

Visiting these communities made a deep impact on the members of this delegation, and revealed two essential facts: that displacement into the camps had a dehumanizing and demoralizing effect due to the disintegration of the whole social fabric, and that existing relief efforts were not addressing the whole human cost of the displacement.

Another realization was that while the Syrian refugee camps were “temporary” solutions to an immediate problem, there were also populations within Egypt, and in other countries in the region, that lived in very distressed conditions and were in similar circumstances that could only result in despair, hopelessness and the disintegration of the social fabric, leading to violence, instability and vulnerability to a fundamentalist religious messages. In fact, displaced populations such as Syrians in Lebanon who are not living in refugee camps were also becoming established as informal communities that exist in their host countries while at the same time not being integrated into or provided services by the host country. So these communities also were in need of another approach to development aid, one that would take into consideration the needs of the human spirit overlooked by traditional development aid interventions. The conclusion was that if such an approach could be developed, it might prove to be a usable model for other distressed communities around the world as well.

A set of objectives, guiding tenets, and activities for a new “cultural relief” initiative, soon named Action for Hope, were in place shortly after this trip, and funds for a one-year pilot program were secured from the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and DOEN Foundation. The components and logistics of the program were tested, refined, and evaluated throughout June 2013 until September 2014, in a pilot phase that saw four different interventions take place, two in Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon, and two in economically distressed informal settlements in Egypt.

In early 2015, the Action for Hope cultural relief program and activities were re-formulated to respond to the findings and evaluations of the pilot phase. The most important change after the pilot was to add to the “relief” elements such as cultural relief convoys more sustainable cultural development programs that have a deeper impact on communities and on the arts and culture scene such as the music school, advanced training in video and theater, and the university scholarships in the arts.