Young refugees building confidence and skills despite the pandemic: “I am happier and feel valued”

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Anastasiia Rodion

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

The harsh impacts of a chronic economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionately hurting marginalised and vulnerable communities in Lebanon, including Palestinian refugees across the country. I recently spoke to Mohamad*, a peer educator volunteering in the MAP-supported Adolescent Health and Life-skills Education project, implemented in partnership with local NGO Beit Atfal Assomoud. We talked about his experience volunteering in the project, the impact of COVID-19 on youth in his community, and how he and the team at Beit Atfal Assomoud are helping young Palestinian refugees to cope with these new challenges.

Hi Mohamad, can you tell a little about yourself?

“I am 16 years old and live with my parents and twin sister in Burj el Barajneh Palestinian camp. I study at an UNRWA school and I am usually the top of my class. I like to write; it helps me feel better. I write about my feelings and thoughts. I also like doing video blogs on social media and listening to classical music.”

How did you learn about the Adolescent Health and Life-skills Education project and start participating in it?

“Three years ago, one of my schoolteachers told us about the peer education sessions at Beit Atfal Assomoud’s centre run by young people just like me. The next day, I went with a group of classmates and attended a session. I liked it and continued to attend peer education sessions on various topics in the weeks that followed. One day, the social worker asked me if I was interested in volunteering in the project. She told me that I have good skills and, with some training, would be able to facilitate sessions myself. I accepted immediately and went to a residential training workshop with the team.”

How do you think the project’s training activities helped you?

“In the residential training, they taught me how to conduct a session and gave me techniques to help me stand in front of a group and talk to them. At first, I used to get very nervous when I addressed a group, but with time I became more confident and comfortable. Through the workshops, I had the chance to work closely with other youth from different camps, and we became good friends. Now I have many more friends than before.”

What difference has the project made in your life?

“After participating in the project, I started feeling valued. I started to notice how my skills and self-confidence have improved. Now, the younger boys and girls in the camp look to me as a role model and approach me after the sessions to ask me questions and for advice. I am a happier person because of participating in the project.”

What is the impact of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown on the youth in your community?

“The lives of youths are impacted greatly by the coronavirus pandemic, especially when it comes to education and psychological wellbeing. With respect to education, we feel that we are missing out on many things. Online learning is not the same as learning while physically present in a classroom. We feel that we are not grasping the materials the way we should. Poor internet connection is a major issue and not all families have computers to start with. With my good grades, I was hoping to get a scholarship to study medicine when I graduate from high school, but now I am not sure it is still possible. I see that scholarships are becoming available less and less, and funding is focusing more towards providing essential health programs. Since coronavirus arrived, resources became limited and health problems increased.

“On the psychological level, youth are forced to stay home and not interact with their peers as much. This situation makes us feel stressed and bored. Also, when family members are staying home all the time in overcrowded houses and are all stressed, arguments and family disputes increase. In the project, we work to raise awareness about this and strengthen young people’s stress and anger management skills. We also provide opportunities for youth to express themselves and reflect on their thoughts, helping them feel more reassured and at ease.

“After a few months of lockdown, I think people are accepting the new situation more and are finding ways to cope with it.”

How were the project activities adapted to support youth during the lockdown period?

“Following the outbreak of coronavirus, we stopped conducting sessions in the centre and started doing online activities instead. For example, we [peer educators] did a short video about bullying where we gave the key messages in an interesting and engaging way. We posted it on the project’s Facebook page, and received great feedback. Recently, we have restarted centre-based sessions with small groups to allow for distancing, and we ask everyone to wear face masks and use hand sanitiser.”

What are your hopes for the future?

“I hope things go back to normal as I miss going to school and hanging out with my friends freely.

I would also like to thank MAP for supporting this project.”

Thank you, Mohamad, for talking to me today and all the time and energy you dedicate to the project

Please donate today, to help MAP continue supporting young Palestinian refugees amid the coronavirus pandemic:


* Name changed to protect identity

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