Helping to bring a brighter future for young Palestinian refugees

By Wafa Dakwar, MAP’s Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon

More than seventy years have passed since the Nakba, or ‘Catastrophe’, when over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homes before and during the creation of the State of Israel. Around 100,000 of them found shelter in Lebanon.

Despite living in Lebanon for seven decades, Palestinian refugees continue to suffer from social and economic exclusion, discrimination, and extreme poverty. We are prohibited from owning property and working in 39 professions, including most medical jobs. Restrictions on employment and access to public services leave many of us dependent on aid and services provided by the chronically-underfunded UNRWA.

Our ‘Adolescents Health and Life Skills Education’ programme, run in partnership with local NGO the National Institution of Social Care and Vocational Training (NISCVT), provides free health and lifeskills education to young people living in the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps. People in the camps suffer from abject poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing and lack of infrastructure.

The programme’s activities aim to support mental health and provide psychosocial support for young people and their communities. It also aims to empower young people to advocate for their rights with confidence in a context of many political and social restrictions.

The programme’s activities are run by volunteers who receive training and support from specialists. I met with one of these young volunteers, Mohamad, to discuss his experience of being involved in the project.

Mohamad’s story

Mohamad, 17, is a peer educator volunteering in the ‘Adolescents Health and Life-skills Education’ project. He lives in one of the Palestinian camps in Lebanon with his mother and older brother. His father passed away last year after a long battle with illness.

Three years ago, Mohamad’s older brother, Samer, was participating in a cycle of peer education sessions. One day, while their mother and father were at hospital, Samer had to attend a peer education session but couldn’t leave Mohamad alone at home. Samer asked the social worker at NISCVT if Mohamad could join the session, and she accepted.

“I was the youngest person in the session. I found the session very enjoyable and the information very useful. After the session, I went to the social worker and told her that I wanted to volunteer in the project. I wanted to join the project desperately!” said Mohamad.

In the following months, Mohamad attended peer education sessions on many topics, as well as training workshops, until he was ready to conduct sessions independently.

During that period the project team were supporting him, encouraging him, and helping him acquire the needed knowledge and skills for conducting sessions. “They helped me become a confident and dependable peer educator,” Mohamad added.

Mohamad observed a positive change in his character and behaviour since he first joined the project. “I became able to face challenges and solve problems in a reasonable way,” he explained. Through volunteering in the project, Mohamad wanted to help other youth the same way the project team has helped him.

Mohamad feels that participating in the theatre performances during open days organised by the project helped improve his self-confidence the most. The sessions on countering bullying, positive decision-making, communication skills, and avoiding risky behaviours are his favourite. These sessions were not only useful to him, but to the whole family. He used to discuss messages from the sessions with his mother and older brother.

Mohamad wishes that this project continues for many years to support as many young Palestinian boys and girls in Lebanon as possible.

Thanks to our supporters, MAP is able to continue projects like these supporting young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of our supporter magazine, Witness.