BEIRUT—Lebanon’s Antonine University is introducing the country’s first Mountain Guide and Outdoor Activities diploma, which it hopes will become essential for those working with the public in the wild.
Lebanon has mountains that run almost the entire 150-mile (240-kilometer) length of the country, and outdoor sports have become increasingly popular since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Antonine University’s Faculty of Sport Sciences is offering the one-year, master’s level diploma from the 2023–2024 academic year. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in any major to be eligible to enrol.
The programme is designed to graduate a new generation of mountain and outdoor practitioners by shaping their skills in different activities related to nature and adventure, especially in the mountains.
‘It’s Time to Do It’
The endeavour is the brainchild of the faculty’s dean, Antonio Soutou.
“The idea of developing a programme related to outdoor and mountain activities in Lebanon is quite old,” Soutou told Al-Fanar Media. “In fact, with a friend of mine, we had it since we graduated in 2007. When I became the dean of the Faculty of Sport Sciences, I called him and said it’s time to do it.”
Soutou acknowledged that “circumstances helped a lot” in launching the project.
“People have become more attracted to outdoor activities, as they need to take a breath of fresh air after being confined at home for a long time. But with more people going out in nature and engaging in outdoor activities, the risk of injuries has increased and fatal accidents happen occasionally.”Antonio Soutou, dean of the Faculty of Sport Sciences
“We have just come out of three years of a global pandemic, and Lebanon is still grappling with a severe economic crisis. People have become more attracted to outdoor activities, as they need to take a breath of fresh air after being confined at home for a long time.
“But with more people going out in nature and engaging in outdoor activities, the risk of injuries has increased and fatal accidents happen occasionally,” Soutou said.
The Diploma in Mountain Guide and Outdoor Activities programme has a theoretical component, a practical field segment, and an internship, providing students with real-life mountain experience.
It covers winter and summer outdoor activities, history, heritage and sustainable development, as well as risk management, activity planning, and human resources management.
Students will sample a variety of outdoor activities, including trekking, hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, and rafting to decide whether they want to specialise in any of them in a more advanced programme that the university is planning to introduce in a year or two.
“It is mandatory that students experience different trails in various regions of Lebanon, covering a distance of 90 kilometers (56 miles) over the year,” Soutou said. “In the meantime they will learn about orienteering, including how to use a compass, how to read a topographical map, and how to navigate with GPS (the Global Positioning System).”
Holders of the diploma will be able to manage outdoor sports facilities or work for organisations and institutions, such associations, clubs or nongovernmental organisations that deal with mountains and the outdoors.
The programme will be run in partnership with the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association, which promotes rural and sustainable tourism by creating hiking trails across Lebanon with the Lebanese Climbing Association and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Under the partnerships, the associations will provide instructors in each specific field. Lecturers from France and Spain will teach exercise physiology, including the effects on the body of outdoor activities at high altitude.
Students will also have to fulfill 50 hours of volunteering in social, environmental and sustainability fields.
“One of the objectives of the programme is to send our students to volunteer in nature reserves to assist forest rangers in their work of preserving green areas from arson, summer fires and tree cutting,” Soutou said.
Khaled Abdul Malak, a professional Lebanese climber, caving expert and trekker who has contributed documentaries to the National Geographic and Discovery television channels, underlined the importance of having licensed professional guides who are familiar with different types of terrain.
“Different activities require specific skills and different tools,” Abdul Malak told Al-Fanar Media. “For instance, trekking is different from mountain climbing, or caving, or any other outdoor activity. But they all have one point in common, that is the choice of clients. … In other words, one should know the capacities of the people that he or she will be guiding before engaging them in any activity.”
“Different activities require specific skills and different tools. For instance, trekking is different from mountain climbing, or caving, or any other outdoor activity. But they all have one point in common, that is … knowing the capacities of the people they will be guiding.”Khaled Abdul Malak, a professional Lebanese climber
“Professional guides should have a good knowledge of the terrain they are using,” he added. “They should also have basic medical knowledge , such as first aid, to be able to act quickly and deal with any potential accident or medical problem. It is a competence that is crucial in the job.”
Abdul Malak also believes a legal framework and backup system are essential for a safe and proper practice of the job. .
“Not anyone can work as a guide and take responsibility for the people they are guiding,” he said.
First to Sign Up
Nour Nasr, 24, holder of a bachelor’s degree in education, was the first applicant for the new diploma. “I couldn’t wait to register,” she said. “I have been going on hikes for eight years. Having this diploma is like a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a professional in that field.”
Nasr said she thought it was important to have “people with a full knowledge of the mountains to guide others with minimum possible risk.”
Nasr had to pass an English test and get medical clearance, prerequisites for final admission. Once she graduates, she plans to become an outdoor activity organiser or set up her own business.
“I am a nature and outdoor lover,” she said. “This programme is something I have long been waiting for. It was time to have it in a country like Lebanon which is rich in mountains, and has a beautiful natural landscape.”