Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Toledo: Lebanese students check out Toledo

The questions were pointed, direct, and tough.

They ranged from being about Sept. 11, 2001, to the war in Iraq, the Palestinians and the American style of democracy.

Lucas County and Ohio officials weren't taken to task by a group of reporters, but by a group of teenage students from Lebanon, visiting Toledo as part of a student-exchange program. The students, who left Sunday, were part of a program run by Toledo Sister Cities, International.

Jesse Torrence, Sister Cities' outgoing executive director, said the Lebanon students are part of the Linking Individuals, Knowledge, and Culture program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. It is part of an overall mission to improve relations with Middle Eastern countries through student exchanges.

"Toledo was one of two communities in the whole country to sponsor this program in its first year," Mr. Torrence said. "We are quite honored and we put together an exciting program of activities for the eight students."

The students participated in leadership development and cultural exchanges; learned about civic volunteerism, community service, philanthropy, business, education, government and non-profit institutions.

The students took field trips to places like Dearborn, Mich., which has the largest Arab-American population in the country; and to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.

The students took notes, talked about their lives and asked a lot of questions.

On the firing line one day last week in the Lucas County Comlot of questions.

On the firing line one day last week in Lucas County Commission chambers were county administrator Michael Beazley; Karen Rogalski, who is commissioner Maggie Thurber's assistant; and State Rep. James Trakas (R., Independence).

"Why haven't you done more for the freedom of Palestinians?" one teenager asked. Another asked if they believed the people in Iraq were better off today than when they were under Saddam Hussein's rule.

Another asked about Sept. 11, 2001, and why couldn't the U.S. citizens have more of a voice in how the country responded.

Mr. Trakas, who was in town visiting friends when he decided to join the discussion, said he enjoyed the experience.

"I'm a second-generation immigrant [from Greece] so I can appreciate their enthusiasm," Mr. Trakas said. "They're an outstanding group of kids and they are up on their issues. I think Lebanon is in good hands if this is the future of their nation."

Ms. Rogalski said she was more impressed with how open-minded the students were and not afraid to ask good, tough questions.

Toledo City Council last week recognized the group and made the students honorary citizens. Council president Louis Escobar invited the students to the front of council chambers to shake hands with all the councilmen after the presentation.

The students said they believe many Americans don't understand the Middle East and that many would have a different view if they learned more about the people and culture.

"Some things have changed," said Diana Abbas, 16. "People are willing to listen to different perspectives. There's a lot of things that can be learned between the two cultures."

Some students were concerned about the images of Arab terrorists that are often portrayed in television news and the lack of other Arab images to counter those views.

"Before, we saw Americans as arrogant and they see us as terrorists," Reem Harb, 15, said. "We want to help change the perception of the Middle East."

The Lebanon students said their three-week visit was beneficial because it gave them new insight into the United States and they hope their presence will give the Americans they met a new view of Lebanon and the Middle East.

"I want to change the view our people have about America and how the American people view us, so we can come to a compromise, solve the wars and go to peace," said Abdallah Saleh, 15. "I think the student exchanges are very important because we get to understand each other."

Mr. Torrence said the summer camp allows the students to visit Toledo, practice their English, learn about American culture and tour the region.

This was the first of two groups Toledo Sister Cities International sponsored this summer. Sister Cities is currently hosting 40 high school-aged students from seven countries during its eighth annual International Youth Academy.

Toledo has nine sister cities: Delmenhorst, Germany; Toledo, Spain; Londrina, Brazil; Qinhuangdao, China; Szeged, Csongrad County, Hungary; Toyohashi, Japan; Tanga, Tanzania; Pozan, Poland, and Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

or 419-724-6095.

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