Lebanon: FISTA ("First Step Together Association") includes a kindergarten in the old city centre of Beirut, two schools in Jall-El-Deeb, a Christian suburb of Beirut, a vocational training centre and a small farm. In addition, there is a further school in Tripoli and another training centre and a school in Akkar. These various Waldorf initiatives particularly care for children, adolescents and young adults with special needs.
Shortly after the end of the civil war, a new NGO was registered in Lebanon in 1993. In itself this is nothing unusual or special, but for the initiatives, which were now united under the umbrella of the "First Step Together Association”, this was a significant step. A step that drew the line under many years of civil war that had been marked by the constant fight for survival and resulted in a high figure of casualties.
When the Austrian paediatrician Wally Merhej had to look after three small children all by herself, as a result to the death of her husband, she founded the “Little Prince Kindergarten” in 1974. This initiative became a Waldorf kindergarten due to the cooperation with the Syrian psychologist Marie Rose Boulos. The Little Prince is also open to children with disabilities, who are otherwise often discriminated against in Lebanon. The beginning of the civil war had a huge impact on the initiative when Marie Rose Boulos was abducted and never returned.
But Wally Merhej was not be deterred. She organized summer camps for students with learning difficulties in the mountains and achieved that more and more people attended the initiatives of the "Little Prince". In 1991, two schools with four grades each were added to promote children according to their possibilities in a more comprehensive way than before. Thus Wally Merhej committed herself to ensure the rights of children with disabilities and learning difficulties. In order to establish a more effective structure for the many individual initiatives, she decided to found an umbrella organization in the legal sense of an NGO.
In 2004 it became clear that there was a need, to care fort the now grown-up people with special needs with the help of vocational training. Therefore plans developed for a construction project, which should accommodate the vocational training as well as the kindergarten, the school, a theatre and the administration. It was to be co-financed by the Friends of Waldorf Education and the (BMZ). In 2006, Israel's attack on Lebanon seemed to have the plans fail. However in 2007, Heide Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation (BMZ), was able to attend the laying of the foundation stone.
Since the public support for FISTA is quite modest, the association is mainly financed through summer camps, which are attended predominantly by Arab children. The encounter between people of different nationalities is a major concern to FISTA and therefore the association is a long-time partner organization of the “Weltwärts” program and the Friends of Waldorf Education.