“I can speak my mind and voice my rights”

By Wafa Dakwar, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP’s) Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon

Razan is a peer educator who has been volunteering for many years in the Adolescent Health and Life-Skills Education project run by Beit Atfal el Assomoud in Lebanon with Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP’s) support. When I saw Razan recently, she was leading an interactive theater performance on gender-based violence and confidently moderating a difficult discussion with the audience where she challenged their perceptions on the topic. I could barely believe that she was the same shy young girl that I saw assisting in a peer education session six years earlier. I sat down with her to know more about her experience of volunteering in the project and how she was able to achieve such a change.

Hi Razan, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

“My name is Razan. I am the youngest of eight siblings. I live in one of the Palestinian camps in South Lebanon. I am 21 years old, and am studying for a Master’s degree in English literature. I started volunteering in the project when I was 14 years old.”

How did you know about the project and what motivated you to join?

“I first knew about the project through an English language support course that Beit Atfal Assomoud was running in their community center in the camp. The social worker in the centre handed us [the course participants] a flyer about the project and I started attending the next day.

“After attending a full cycle of sessions, I started receiving intensive training to become a peer educator. I used to have low self-confidence, and I was very shy, but I wanted to become a teacher. So, I thought volunteering in the project will give me skills that will help me become a good teacher, such as being able to stand in front of, talk to, and manage a group of young people. Also, I thought that volunteering will give me some work experience that might help me secure a job when I graduate.”

Tell me about something you did or achieved in the project that made you feel proud?

“My proudest moment was when I went to a school to give a peer education session to a girls-only class. The school principal informed us that the group was very difficult to manage. I gave a cycle of weekly sessions which went very well. The school principal told the social worker supervising me that it was the first time he’d seen this group being collaborative, interactive, and interested in anything. I think they accepted me and considered me as one of them because I was their age. This feedback made me feel that I have succeeded.”

Can you give an example of something you learned or a behavior you changed after participating in the project?

“I used to have a bad temper, and I used to take decisions impulsively which caused me to get into arguments and lose many friends. After participating in the project, I benefitted from the anger management and conflict resolution sessions and trainings, and I started acting more rationally and not making haste decisions. I became a better and more patient person in general.

“I learn more with every session I give; I learn from the sessions’ participants as much as they learn from me. I feel I have grown stronger after years of participating in the project. I can speak my mind and voice my rights. My relationship with my parents has also become better. I can now have long, sound discussions with my parents instead of losing my temper and arguing with them. I feel I can reason with them and convince them of my opinions.”

Why do you think the project is important for youth?

“I think that the project teaches us about many things that our parents don’t talk to us about, either because they are busy working all the time to secure our essential needs, or because they don’t feel comfortable enough to discuss  topics of a sensitive nature. For example, the project raises awareness about issues such as drugs, risky behaviors, early marriage, harassment, and bullying. By raising awareness about existing risks, the project has helped us avoid them – in other words, it protected us.

“When I work with groups of girls, I notice that they sometimes have wrong ideas about their role. They think that the most important thing is to look good, fall in love, and get married. I work with them to change their misconceptions about gender roles and help them see that there is more to a woman’s life than to just meet a guy and get married. I also tell the young people that there are many ways to express themselves and relieve stress without engaging in risky behaviors. I refer many to the music programme at Beit Atfal Assomoud. Expressing their feelings through music is very helpful for some of them.”

Do you have any advice or suggestions for the project team?

“I think the project should continue to provide sessions on topics of interest to adolescents and to deliver messages through activities. I find this methodology very effective. Also, I think that the project team should continue to include art activities such as doing graffiti on the camp’s walls and theatre.”

What are your hopes for the future?

“I hope to continue to be part of this successful project. I also look forward to finishing my master’s degree and to start teaching in a school, and maybe even at a university.”

Thanks for speaking Razan and all that you do!

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

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Name changed to protect identity

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