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Breathing Alpine hope into the Middle East

Octavia Nasr

Published: Updated:

Nestled between the Alps and Leman Lake is an old-castle-turned-conference center in the village of Caux in Southwest Switzerland. It turns into a warm welcoming home to many of us for a few days every summer.

Every year people converge on this site from around the world to discuss ways to understand each other better, communicate more effectively, and collaborate more efficiently towards building a better future for all.

The quiet, pristine surroundings are perfect for dialogue. The atmosphere of selfless service coupled with the absence of ranks, titles and dress code make understanding the other a lot better.

In this place, peace is embedded in nature, beauty is found in simplicity, and achievement is measured in how many life wounds you carry; not by your ancestry, school or employer. For a few summer days every year doors open doors and hearts in the hope they will not be closed again.

Not a place for everyone

Here in Caux, you are judged by your contribution to workshops in honesty and courage, on the topics of multiculturalism, inter-generational communication, forgiveness, tolerance and other subjects of equal value. Here, you are appreciated for serving coffee or water, chopping onions, cooking or washing dishes, before or after you deliver a keynote speech or lead a workshop on healing the past or showcase your multi-award winning film.

This is not a place for everyone and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

We dare to dream that one day my country of origin, Lebanon, and other Arab nations will enjoy such a simple but symbolic event.

Octavia Nasr

Some Arabs might be offended at the approach or the lack of photo opportunities to share with their friends and family. There is nothing to brag about here as the tallest, largest, fastest, richest, or glitteriest. Influence is instead measured by who makes the biggest difference or highest sacrifice. Respect goes to who gives up more of his wealth and time to help others. Compassion is the soothing balm of the most underprivileged and medals are awarded to the most modest. The focus at Caux is not on how we can “get more” but how to give more. Not, how to kill more people but how to save more lives.

You’ll be glad to know that Arabs are well represented at the “Learning to Live in a Multicultural World” conference. Among Asians, Australians, Africans, Americans and Europeans, you find promising forward-thinkers and solution-oriented students and professionals from Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon. They are here to shed the prejudices they grew up with. They are already walking a walk foreign to their leaders and desired by many of their peers and countrymen and women.

Against this backdrop, as we witness the Swiss National Day, together we dare to dream this week, that one day my country of origin, Lebanon, and other Arab nations will enjoy such a simple but symbolic event.

To mark national day an elderly all-men band drove around waking people up at dawn to traditional patriotic tunes. Later, everyone enjoyed a traditional fondue and at night, people gathered around a bonfire, listening to music, celebrating and showing gratitude for peace, a home nation and independence.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on August 6, 2013.

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Multi-award-winning journalist Octavia Nasr served as CNN’s senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, and is regarded as one of the pioneers of the use of social media in traditional media. She moved to CNN in 1990, but was dismissed in 2010 after tweeting her sorrow at the death of Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fadlallah. Nasr now runs her own firm, Bridges Media Consulting, whose main aim is to help companies better leverage the use of social networks. Twitter: @OctaviaNasr

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.