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Overwhelming Response

UNICEF saw the project as a gift to Lebanon's children. Sawa would include not only school exercises, but also stories, arts and crafts activities, arithmetic, and so on. Yet in war-torn Lebanon, distribution would be complicated. For that, UNICEF made use of the network of dispensaries it had managed to maintain in spite of the fighting. To publicize the new magazine, UNICEF produced public service announcements and rushed them to local radio stations. The message was simple: "Kids, tell your parents to go to the dispensary when it's safe. UNICEF has something fun for you and your friends there." In the following weeks, three newsletters were produced and distributed free of charge. The response was overwhelming and the newsletters disappeared from the dispensaries as quickly as they could be delivered.

The decision was quickly made to formalize the project and to provide the magazine to Lebanese children for free on a regular basis. Sawa would provide children with an opportunity to learn and play wherever they were, and it would prepare a new generation for life in a society at peace. Funding was initially made available for fifty thousand copies (later increased to seventy thousand) of a thirty-page magazine every six weeks.

Each issue of Sawa focused on a central theme, carefully chosen in the context of the war environment, to take children beyond the confines of the shelters, stimulate their imaginations, encourage them to think, provide entertainment, and impart lessons in an interactive and approachable way. The first page of each issue was devoted to a letter addressed to the young reader. Each issue consisted of a range of regular features that not only entertained the young readers but also advanced an inclusive view of the world:

  • "Know Your Country" took readers on imaginary tours to different areas of Lebanon-to Baalbeck, the Cedars, or simply across the "Green Line" of Beirut; or it described to them, making use of a map of Lebanon, the different foods or crafts from each region. For the children of Lebanon who tended to view people in terms of their religion, ethnicity, or clan affiliation, the "Know Your Country" feature offered an alternative, emphasizing a Lebanese identity.
  • "From Our Culture" featured Lebanese proverbs and folktales, or told about prominent figures from Lebanese history, often combining educational material on culture with a moral message. The features cut across ethnic and cultural lines to provide young readers with a point of contact with the "other."
  • "Living Sawa" was the primary vehicle for promoting a more or less explicit message of peace. This included stories and parables illustrating children's rights, solidarity, unity, and nonviolence.
  • "Right or Wrong?" provided a chance for the children to decide appropriate forms of behavior in different situations.

Sawa also included features on health, world cultures, science, arts and crafts, and information about ongoing UNICEF programs.