Supporting young Palestinian refugees: “It helped me get through a dark period in my life”

In May, Palestinians marked the 70th anniversary of the ‘Nakba’, or catastrophe, when over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homes in historic Palestine.

Today an estimated five million Palestinian refugees around the world are eligible for the services of UNRWA, the UN humanitarian agency which is mandated to support them.

Life as a refugee in Lebanon poses serious threats to the psychological wellbeing and mental health of Palestinian children. The country’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps and many informal gatherings endure high rates of poverty, social exclusion, and overcrowding. UNRWA’s health and education services are limited by its growing budgetary shortfall. Opportunities to find work are limited, and Palestinians are legally and practically barred from many professions.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) supports an ‘Adolescents Health and Life Skills Education’ programme, run in partnership with local NGO the National Institution of Social Care and Vocational Training (NISCVT), which provides free health and life-skills education to young people living in the camps. The programme’s activities aim to support mental health and provide psychosocial support for youth and their communities. It also aims to empower young people to advocate for their rights with confidence in a context of manifold political and social restrictions.

The programme’s activities are run by volunteers who receive training and support from specialists. One of these young volunteers was Hana*. Hana spoke to us about her experience attending peer education sessions and, later on, helping to run these sessions. She also spoke about the impact this project had on her life.

At an early age, I started participating in activities organised at NICSVT’s centre in the camp where I lived. I joined their musical band and they taught me to play an instrument. I became very good at it; I was told I am talented.

“I used to look forward to coming to the centre as it helped me escape my family’s problems. My father was violent; he used to beat us. I used to feel lonely and avoided having friends.

“One day the team asked me to take a leading role in the music band; however, my father refused as it meant training more often with the band that included males. He even forced me to leave the band. Till today, sometimes I think of the successes that I could have had if I stayed in the band and accepted that leading role.

“During that period, I started attending peer education sessions which were offered at the same centre where I used to practice. The peer education sessions gave me the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings and helped me overcome my anger and frustration. I became aware that I was projecting my anger on my siblings which was making me even lonelier. The sessions improved my anger and stress management and ability to resolve conflicts. The participants and the project team became my close friends and supported me to regain my self-confidence.

“After my participation in the project, I felt empowered, and for the first time in my life I was able to confront my father and tell him that his behaviour was not acceptable. I was able to have conversations with him and to convince him with my ideas. The project taught me to express my thoughts and opinions in a rational way.

“Gradually my relationship with my family improved. I became a better sister to my younger siblings. I helped them overcome many challenges.

“I volunteered in the project for three years until I had to leave to go to university. Today, I feel I am a stronger person because of the project. I am able to say ‘no’ and confront issues when needed. I am grateful for this project as it helped me get through a dark period in my life and work hard for a better future.”

Please consider making a donation today to help MAP to continue supporting young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.


*Name changed to protect identity

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