The U.S. Department of State travel advisory warns U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon. Yet, the U.S. Follow the Women team did not see or experience any violence during our bicycle ride for peace October 1-8, 2017 pedaling the length and breadth of the diverse land of Lebanon.
Follow the Women was founded in 2004 by Detta Regan from England who called on women from around the world to bike in the Middle East as a platform to call attention to the region’s yearning for peace. This year 120 women biked all over Lebanon rallying for peace. Cyclists came from the United States, England, Iran, Italy, Jordan, China, Japan, Poland, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, France, Germany, Belgium and Cyprus. We brought our message to hospitals, Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps, not-for-profit foundations, former prison camps, cafes, schools and even a micro-brewery and soap factory.
Apart from the massive publicity garnered by the unusual sight in the Middle East of women on wheels, a primary mission of our organization is building playgrounds in Palestinian refugee camps in pursuit of a child’s “Right to Play” even in dire surroundings. (See the Achievements section in our website).
This year was the first time Follow the Women cycled solely in one country. Past rides have started in Lebanon and cycled to Syria, Jordan and Palestine, but that itinerary is out of the question these days. Instead, one of our purposes was to emphasize that, contrary to the State Department, Lebanon is not unsafe for foreign travelers. Although armed Lebanese Special Forces followed the women, their mission was never to protect us from the local people who overflowed with generosity, hospitality and eagerness for friendship.
The most important lesson in peace we learned from the Lebanese people is that the country consists of widely diverse communities who live in close proximity — Druze, Marronite Christians, Shia, Sunni — all of whom we visited. For many years now they also live in close harmony making them a role model for other societies with diverse populations.
Follow the Women 2017 was organized by Beirut By Bike which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in business. Its director, Jawad Sbeity, enabled us to meet with common people who expressed enormous gratitude that we came to visit their country. Lebanese mothers told us they want the same things American mothers want – education and opportunities for their children, affordable food and housing and, not just peace, but peace with justice. Jawad also arranged for Follow the Women to meet Prime Minster Saad Hariri who graciously took a selfie with the U.S. team and other country teams.
Follow the Women invites you to participate in future peace rides in the Middle East and to contribute to the playgrounds projects in refugee camps.