“Can I read you a message I got today?” Sarah asks. Sarah is one of the three staff members of the A Project, a Mama Cash grantee-partner since 2016. “One of the counsellors for the hotline sent a message to the group chat today.” She grabs her phone, scrolls briefly, and then begins reading aloud with a smile in her voice: “A caller said, ‘I wish the A Project existed when I was a teenager, it would have changed my life. Thank you for all your great work.’”
The A Project, based in Lebanon, was founded in 2014 with the mission of reframing the conversation around sexual health, identity and desire. “The dominant discourse in Lebanon is very sex-negative. We don’t have any mode of knowing more about ourselves, about our bodies, about our choices and alternatives.”
“I wish the A Project existed when I was a teenager, it would have changed my life.”
Their sexuality hotline, in addition to workshops, their online platform and street outreach, is one of the ways they are changing that. “So many people let us know that they feel much better after talking on the hotline. They’re not just thankful for the service, they say: ‘I had such a nice conversation and I feel so much better about what I’m going to do or how I’m feeling.’” In the last year, the hotline went from receiving four to five calls per week, fielded by trained volunteers, to up to 18 calls per week.
“We make it a point not to sound like a service provision hotline,” Sarah explains. “We can just have a conversation; you don’t have to have a clear idea about where this conversation is going. If you want to rant about patriarchy, your relationship, sex, a doctor that made you feel like shit about your weight or for seeking a service he doesn’t approve of, we’re here to talk about it. I’m going to rant as well, I’m going to believe you, I’m going to make you know that your feelings are valid. ”
“If you want to rant about patriarchy, your relationship, sex, a doctor that made you feel like shit ... we’re here to talk about it. ”
The A Project’s sexuality hotline does provide information and referrals to services or non-judgmental doctors, but they are more focused on ensuring that their callers feel safe, heard and affirmed in a culture where discussions about sexuality rarely go beyond condemning sex outside of marriage.
At the core of The A Project´s work is the belief that knowledge about our bodies does not belong to patriarchal governments and medical institutions. “We try to make knowledge available to everyone. When people have that knowledge they know they have different choices, different options, and they’re better equipped to make choices for themselves.” That is, after all, what the ‘A’ in The A Project stands for: alternatives, autonomy, agency.