QUEEN OF SWEDEN TO NNA: LEBANESE PEOPLE STRONG ENOUGH TO WEATHER DIFFICULTIES

Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, Founder and President of “Mentor International”, said in an exclusive interview with the National News Agency that the Lebanese people abroad have acheived great success. “Strength is embeded in the Lebanse people’s genes; despite the political turmoil that these people endure, they remain strong enough to weather difficulties. The Lebanese are wonderful people,” HM added.

What role does Mentor International and Mentor Arabia play in the lives of today’s youth? What kind of challenges has this foundation faced the most throughout its 25-year-journey? HMQ, President of Mentor International, gives NNA the following answers:

Q: You founded Mentor International 25 years ago, what do you consider the Foundation’s best achievement so far?

A: “The situation was very difficult 25 years ago with all the drugs that started reaching European countries, so I founded Mentor International, together with the World Health Organization, which had also seen the danger of the escalating drug problem.

We are a private foundation for prevention, so in a way, we are doing all the work that a government should do. I think that the most wonderful thing about this is that we have got so many friends who are always helping us, supporting us, and sharing their ideas with us. We have Mentor International in Sweden, Germany, the United States, and the Baltic countries.

15 years ago, Mentor International reached the Arab world through Mentor Arabia; this very important step came through a gentleman from Dubai who called us and said that he had heard about Mentor International and was hoping that our foundation would help resolve the many emerging problems in the Arab world, so he wanted to meet with Mentor International to see how it can help in this regard. Consequently, we had our very first meeting, which I can never forget because there were approximately 70 persons from the Arab region sharing their problems, which I never realized really existed until then. Following this meeting, we decided and started to work together.

Yet, ever since the beginning of Mentor International 25 years ago, Saudi Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, has been a great support; he was somebody who enjoyed a brilliant vision of future development, not to mention foresaw the situation in the Arab world. Since the beginning, he’s been present and providing us with his brilliant ideas – he was a doer. However, as he started becoming a little older, he asked his son, Prince Turki, to join us. In the present, Prince Turki bin Talal, is the chairman of Mentor Arabia.

Q: What difference does Mentor International make in the lives of youth around the world, including youth refugees?

A: “As you may know, we have many refugees in Sweden. We have welcomed one of the biggest numbers of refugees in Sweden in comparison to other European countries. So, we do have people from Sweden’s Mentor International collaborating with many schools who host refugee students. I have contacted these schools, and now we hold meetings on regular basis; we usually talk to the teachers and to the children as well.

Once I asked a young man, ‘Why do you want to have a mentor?’ he said, ‘Well, it is because I’m a refugee, and I don’t know very much about Sweden. However, I do know that I need some help, and that I want to study to become a lawyer. I want to help my father and my family, and I want to shape a good life and future! I know for a fact that a mentor can help me achieve this.’

This young man was very happy with his mentor! Not everybody can be a mentor – that’s why we choose them carefully; they are usually people with wonderful personalities, who also enjoy the ability to help a young person make the right choices for a better life.

So once I asked a mentor, ‘Why are you a mentor?’ and he said, ‘I always feel it is important to help young people, but to be honest, I have two children of my own – they are 13 and 15 years old – and I find it hard to understand what they usually talk about. I don’t understand their language, their music, and the message of their music; I fail to comprehend the things they talk about, and I don’t even know who their friends are. But now that I have been a mentor for two years, I have learned it all! Now, I can really be a mentor for my own children.'”

Q: In what regions of the world have you found it the most challenging to implement the goals of Mentor International, and how do you face these challenges?

A: “We face challenges everywhere. Even in some countries in which most people are definite that peace prevails and everything is calm and organized, we do face some other kinds of challenges. In some of these countries for instance, drugs might be legalized; we might also face challenges with young people who have a different set of beliefs when tackling substance abuse. Nowadays, some people believe that if others want to take drugs, then their decision should be respected; they prefer not to interfere. This is very dangerous and alarming. But then again when I ask people with such views, ‘when do you plan to save your friend?’ the answer could be something like, ‘If a person wishes to take drugs, then it’s his/her business.’ This is the wrong answer.

So the point is that if a country is running smoothly without any problems, this in no way signifies that there are no challenges in said county.

However, in the Arab region, there are other kinds of challenges — there is political instability and everyday is different. This makes young people feel unsafe and causes them anxiety to the extent that some might resort to drugs. According to recent statistics, four out of ten in the Arab region suffer from anxiety, and that’s quite a huge number. Something should be done about it.

Q: How will the Youth Mentoring Platform help Arab youth seriously get their voice heard by policy makers?

A: “That’s a good question! Well, with Mentor Arabia, it’s been wonderful. For instance, the Lebanese President received me yesterday, not in only in my capacity as the Queen of Sweden, but also as the President of Mentor Foundation. So, we had the opportunity to talk about Mentor International, about drugs, and about many of the different problem areas that young people are facing today. The Lebanese President, his wife, as well as his daughter [Claudine] have shown great interest, and so has the Prime Minister, who was the patron of Mentor Arabia gala dinner.

The Lebanese President, Prime Minister, Minister of Education, and many others are aware of the problem, and they’re all involved in efforts to resolve it. I believe they are together with Mentor now, and they are aware of the paramount importance of listening to what young people have to say.”

Q: As a queen who has been declared to serve the longest in Sweden, what has been your biggest challenge?

A: “Life in general is challenging. In the beginning, of course, everything was very new to me especially that I had a different background, and I was marrying the King of Sweden. It was most definitely something very beautiful, yet very different. But still, in the midst of all this change, values remained the same for me. You have to carry good values wherever you go.

His Majesty, the King of Sweden, has been very wonderful helping me and being my mentor. Also Queen Ingrid of Denmark was magnificent. Of course, the only thing I could say was, ‘I’ll do my best!’, but then again, I had to learn everything: how the Swedish think and function, and most importantly how the Swedish talk. It was a whole new world.”

Q: Have you relayed any specific message to Lebanese officials?

A: “I’ve lived in Brazil for many years – 10 years – and there are many Lebanese living in Brazil, and I’ve met quite a big number of them. I may say they are doing very well in Brazil, and they are very hard working people. They have been very successful, so I think it’s in the Lebanese people’s genes. I also believe that despite of the political difficulties that the Lebanese endure, they are strong enough to weather difficulties. The Lebanese are wonderful people.”

Established in 2006 with its regional head office in Beirut, Lebanon, Mentor Arabia Foundation is a non-governmental organization that is part of Mentor International, founded in 1994 and represented in multiple countries across three continents.

At the forefront of Mentor Arabia Foundation is a reputable board of trustees, chaired by Prince Turki Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, as well as a number of distinguished representatives from regional and international organizations; in addition to leading public figures, youth, specialists and scientists in related fields.

One event that has taken place during HMQ Silvia’s visit to Lebanon was the official launch of ‘The Youth Mentoring Platform’, a special joint initiative by Mentor Arabia and the American University in Beirut (AUB). The platform aims to create a “space for dialogue” for youth to express their views around the challenges they face, as well as explore possible opportunities, solutions, and enabling factors to maximize their potential.

Source: National News Agency