Wojouh: Rami Zawde
One of the greatest assets of Greater Tripoli is its very own people. Whether in Tripoli or abroad, Greater Tripolitans have continued to excel and innovate. As a result, Tripolicy has decided to launch a series called Project Wojouh to shed light on some notable figures and rising stars.
Tripolicy sat with Rami Zawde this week to discuss how the Tripolitan youth are changing their outlook towards the persistent obstacles that they have faced for generations now. Rami, a sociologist and marketing major by training, has recently been coaching around 110 upcoming professionals in “Life Skills” as both a freelancer and a life coach with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). He also instructs in “Sociology of Knowledge” at the Dar Center for Research and Development. These are projected towards the professional integration of the youth in the local market. Zawde’s approach focuses on reshaping the youth’s perspective towards issues they face in their daily lives and arming them with the skills to face them such as communication, or general knowledge relevant to the subject matter.
He notes how upcoming generations have changed their outlook especially in terms of extracurricular work and skill development. As a trainer, many of those seeking his workshops are college freshmen, and sophomores looking to gain an edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace. He attributes this increase to the decrease in local job opportunities paired with the overflow of qualified individuals into the job market that is increasing yearly.
Generational Changes in Tripoli: A New Outlook
When asked about how the recent economic crises have affected the job market and the youth in particular and the effectiveness of his guidance-based strategies in the face of these overwhelming circumstances Zawde notes that younger generations are characteristically more optimistic than older ones and this can play to their advantage by pushing them through towards a future with better circumstances that would allow them to implement what they have learned. His approach however does not attempt to focus on spreading optimism for the sake of it but on explaining how one’s state of mind can lead one to perceive things in a certain way. This unorthodox way of coaching veers away from traditional life coaching in the sense that it focuses on a scientific way of explaining what leads a person within a particular group with the related positive or negative cultural and socioeconomic influences to see things in a particular light rather than preach about possibilities of breaking out from the group towards a better one. He teaches his students that objectivity, rationality, and realism are the keys to improvement. This he indicates is starkly different from the general discourse found in the city which is built on emotional-based interpretations of issues and personalities built on presenting a façade contrasting with their reality which Zawde dubs a “communal delusion”. Thus, the outputs of his approach would be increased self-awareness which Zawde indicates is an invaluable tool in understanding oneself, playing to one’s strengths, and overcoming the challenges one faces.
The Importance of Developing a Good Work Ethic
When asked about how the audience is reacting to these highly idealized approaches when generally they are searching for immediate practical aid such as a job opportunity or financial aid, Zawde states that the centers that employ him work with the participants in finding internships or preparing them for the job market. He does not see his approach as mutually exclusive with the more practical approaches but auxiliary to it by stressing that for a worker to succeed they would need to be armed with the correct mentality that allows them the professional pragmatism to work. He gives an example of a student he interfaced with that had graduated with a hospitality degree that stood above the rest in his interactions and reception to the ideas being presented. After Zawde helped facilitate a job opportunity for him at a restaurant owned by a friend, the owner’s reaction after several weeks of employment was that the individual was one of the best in the business and that his work ethic made him stand out above the rest. This is one example of how not only it is important to help people find jobs but help guide them to how to become better professionals that can accelerate their growth within a certain field.
Through his work Zawde has consistently noticed that females show a much higher degree of passion towards the subject of life skills and problem analysis than their male counterparts. When asked why does he think that is the case, he indicates that females in his audience have shown an affinity towards the analytical side of dealing with problems while males were more invested in the practical side of it. This gives females an advantage as he has anecdotally observed that women remain employed longer than males in any job or field within the Tripolitan marketplace. However, this same longevity in employment stumps their growth in the marketplace by not pushing towards job growth as aggressively as males do. The reason according to Zawde is that while women's employment is commonplace in Tripoli the phenomenon of a female head of household is very rare to nonexistent. The traditional male-headed household in Tripoli and Lebanon in general places pressure on the male to seek better job opportunities while females see their employment as an auxiliary to the male employment in the family or funds made for personal expenses being those of the family. Thus society plays a role in how gender-based differences in the workplace manifest and evolutions in that front are always needed towards a path of higher equality.
Socio-Economic: Class Changes in Tripoli
In terms of how social changes in the city are affecting the socio-economic status of its inhabitants, Zawde gives the example of the recent arson of the Tripoli Municipal Hall which he believes is a seminal event across the modern history of the city. Through the reactions of the people, he discretizes the city into distinct groups: Those who supported the move or did not object to it saying that the people that did it were hungry protestors attacking a symbol of government, and those who opposed it saying it was an act of vandalism. The former were predominantly people belonging to poorer classes that have nothing to lose, and the latter which are what remains of a middle class in the city that saw it as a further step towards the spiraling of the city into a failed one. Zawde indicates that the Middle Class is disappearing from the city in both a systematic and nonsystematic way which poses a significant challenge to its future as it is the Middle Class that forms the cultural and socioeconomic heavyweight in the city. What is happening in Tripoli today, according to Zawde, is that we are moving from traditional Low-Middle-High income classes to a Low-High income class society. High-income classes are the least affected in the economic crisis and have many assets in the city that would root them there for the immediate future, the low-income classes do not have the economic means nor educational qualifications to emigrate to a different country, only the middle-income class has the latter two but is not economically comfortable enough to sustain living in the city for a prolonged period. When asked if this the same case across Lebanon Zawde indicates that while he does not have the data to empirically corroborate this, he indicates that Tripoli is a city with a predominantly high percentage of middle-class income individuals compared to other cities which makes the effect of middle-class emigration bigger on the city than on others across Lebanon.
Rami concludes by saying that traditionally while demographic changes were occurring in the city with many emigrating from it and many moving into it from surrounding rural areas into the city, the integration into the fabric of the city has generally been seamless. People have found their identity within the city and adopted it in a varying model to what has happened in Beirut where there is a distinction between “original” inhabitants and people that move into the city based on sectarian and regional lines. However, the latest economic crises and the greater divergence between the social classes indicate that there is an identity crisis occurring which was very evident with the Tripoli Municipal Hall arson. Those with a long history of living in the city saw it as an attack on the very identity of it, while those in support of the arsonists did not see the symbolism of burning what is traditionally the seat of the local government. He notes that during the event he had heard people state that only “the bourgeoise” are in an uproar about the arson. To Zawde this bodes ill for the future of the social fabric on the city and a potential class clash that is reinforced by identity politics.
About the Author: Yasser is an architect from Tripoli that is currently completing his Ph.D. in Architecture at Georgia Tech in Atlanta USA. He was a Fulbright Scholar and Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford Finalist. He is the Founder of Tripolicy.