It Takes a Village of Women Humanitarians to Support Vulnerable Communities in the Middle East
For the World Humanitarian Day 2022, we want to highlight the work of our female humanitarians who are dedicated to our beneficiaries and supporting affected communities in hard-to-reach areas.
The daily work of these women is contributing to fight against the causes and consequences of hunger everywhere in the MENA area. These 5 passionate women are making positive change each in their own country and who would do it better than local skilled professionals like them?
They have been on the frontline of our work, today we pay tribute to their courage and dedication to be such inspiring role models in the humanitarian village.
Please meet Asmaa from Iraq, Jinan from Lebanon, Rajaa from Gaza (occupied Palestinian territory), Masa from Syria and Mervat from West Bank (occupied Palestinian territory).
Asmaa Farooq, WASH Head of Department for Action Against Hunger in Iraq
My name is Asmaa Farooq. I am a married mother of two girls (one is eight years old, and the other is 11 months old). I am an Iraqi citizen, but more specifically, I am from Duhok city in the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI).
I am a water resource engineer and graduated from Duhok University in 2011. I started working in the private sector in 2012 and switched to the humanitarian field in 2015. I began work in the WASH sector with a national NGO but quickly moved to Action Against Hunger. I have been with Action Against Hunger since 2016, gaining experience in different locations and positions across Iraq. Most recently, I was assigned as Head of the WASH Department for Iraq and had also been providing ad hoc support to other missions within the MENA Region.
As Head of the WASH Department, I worked tirelessly with my team during the pandemic. We were helping raise awareness among internally displaced persons and refugees about preventing the spread of Covid 19 through proper and effective hygiene.
As a mother, my primary concern and the biggest challenge is to keep a sensible and practical work/life balance. I need to do the best I can for my husband and children while attending to what can be a heavy and demanding workload. I have my own 'weekly plan,' which considers their well-being and safety during my frequent absence from home. At the same time, I am entirely devoted to the critical work we are doing in Action Against Hunger across Iraq and the wider MENA region.
My work is nothing but LOVE. Indeed. I would encourage everyone to 'love' what they do and enjoy it as much as possible, not dealing with it as a daily grind and mere obligation.
In addition, I hope to expand my reach across the world, bring that international experience back with me to Iraq, and create a better WASH-friendly environment.
Jinan, 26 years old, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Emergency Supervisor for Action Against Hunger in South Lebanon
My name is Jinan, I am 26 years old of a Lebanese nationality. I have studied biology in the Lebanese University then did Masters in Ecology and Environment. I have been working for Action Against Hunger for the last 2 years and in COVID-19 response and other types of emergencies. As my family status, I have recently been engaged to the person who was supporting me through all my emergency work journey.
In the first 7 months in my Action Against Hunger journey, I was a WASH Emergency Field Officer doing the necessary emergency assessments, distributions and conducting awareness sessions on water, sanitation, and hygiene. Later, I have become the WASH Emergency Supervisor who was planning the daily interventions and liaising with the local authorities and other working partners to better coordinate our emergency work in the South of Lebanon. My team and I have been tirelessly supporting the vulnerable people throughout our area of intervention with emergency distributions and awareness sessions.
My daily challenge is seeing day by day the increasing number of people in need especially due to the heavy economic crisis in Lebanon and not being able to fulfill the needs for all. However, with our courage, persistence, dedication, and our proper coordination with the implementing partners, we always find a way to organize our work and to respond in a minimal timeline. Then our focus was about supporting the vulnerable people who urgently needed our support.
If I would describe my mission as part of the humanitarian village, I would say “Passion”; No one can respond and deliver his/her work perfectly with love, efficiency, flexibility, and dedication to the affected people other than a passionate person.
In this framework, my main hope right now is for a world-free of pandemics. With our strong will, power and sacrifice, we can always unite and cooperate for the sake of our communities. Like when we face any emergency challenge all together to protect ourselves and our people, we can do it to overcome any future obstacle. “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”.
Rajaa, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Officer for Action Against Hunger in Gaza, oPt
My name is Rajaa, I have been working as a Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning Officer at Action Against Hunger since 2019. Part of my job requires enhancing the program quality by obtaining people's feedback and improving our communication with communities.
Covid-19 increased the community's need for support and meeting these needs required communicating with people to understand their situations. As the pandemic spread within the community, our role was to provide the needed resources and information to vulnerable communities. I had to look for alternative mechanisms to communicate with communities given the access restrictions. I developed a complete Telecommunication Plan to reach out to vulnerable people. The plan was delivered successfully, and we obtained positive feedback on our services.
In my work I see the importance of involving the community in decision making processes. When we involve people in decision making, positive feedback increases. People are more aware of their needs and listening to them allows us to plan better for our programmes. We may not have the capacity to satisfy all their needs, but there is nothing more beautiful than the ability to listen to people, and come up with solutions together, as a community.
At Action Against Hunger we exert our utmost efforts to find solutions to overcome emergencies that reduces people's suffering as much as we can. I hope this case is a lesson learned for all of us to always be on our toes for any emergency that requires immediate action, as it takes a village to support people during humanitarian crisis.
We are living in such a continuously challenging context in the Gaza Strip which requires real time, fast paced interventions and preparedness. This demands flexibility in planning and communication with people to address their immediate needs. I usually overcome this challenge by re-arranging priorities and being flexible in addition to collaborating with co-workers.
In this sense, I see my work as fast paced with continuous challenges and I hope to continue working on social change within my community, and to ensure the needs of people are fulfilled.
Masa Nahlawi, Health and Nutrition Program Officer, for Action Against Hunger in Syria
My name is Masa and I was born and raised in Damascus. I studied pharmacy and I have a master’s degree in medicine and chemistry. When I began working in the humanitarian sector in 2015, I was a volunteer before moving to work with international NGOs. I began working with Action Against Hunger in 2020.
What is unique about this journey is that “There is something new every day” – whether it’s a problem or an achievement.
The best part about working in health is the interaction I have with people. I worked in a community pharmacy from 2014 to 2017 and those were amazing years. You have all this interaction with people around you. You don’t only know their illness, but you know their daily lives.
Health is about more than knowing someone's illness but also about their well-being in general – their needs, their families, their lives. I love the interaction I have with people when I am helping them. To be this close to a person and know all these details about their life.
Even with the challenges of COVID, Action Against Hunger Syria made sure not to lose that connection with people, adapting training to smaller groups and other ways of implementing the same community-based health programming safely. This is important with health programming because talking with people through a screen can be cold. People can’t share with you how they may feel and how the intervention changed their lives.
I see that the crisis in Syria has changed people. They are more open to sharing their challenges and suffering. You ask how are you and people immediately open up and talk about their life. This is what the crisis did to people in Syria.
My daily challenge is seeing the reality in the field where people are living and the fact that the needs are huge. At the beginning of my humanitarian career, it was easy to see people smile when you helped them. Now the needs and suffering in Syria are huge. It’s no longer as easy to put a smile on someone’s face. The last two years have been really challenging for people in Syria.
It can be a challenge to keep motivated in the face of these needs. We all get used to hard working conditions but because the needs are huge the impact of our efforts is not as evident in the past few years as needs in Syria grow.
A Syria free of hunger is what I hope to reach one day. This would mean seeing less suffering on peoples’ faces and less misery. At the end of the day no matter how hard economic conditions are, families always will spend on health. I believe that raising people's health status and well-being affects the life of the entire household. Without health, people can’t be productive. When people are healthy all other problems are solvable.
Mervat, Head of the West Bank Protection Consortium Project for Action Against Hunger in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)
I’m Mervat, I’m Palestinian, and I’ve been working with Action Against Hunger in Palestine since 2015. As a Palestinian, I was born in Hebron, a city in the South of the West Bank. I did my first university degree in Hebron, majoring in English, with a minor in French. This was my door into working with the international community. I completed my education with a Master's degree in International Cooperation and Development in Bethlehem.
I was leading the emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic and managing the different funds coming in. The needs increased a lot. Vulnerable communities couldn’t afford to buy hand sanitizers or basic hygiene kits. Our first intervention was to distribute these items to communities. This required a lot of coordination with other organizations and the heads of municipalities. We worked day and night to prepare the logistics for the response. At the request of the Ministry of Health we started working in hospitals.
Since last year I’ve been following a protection project in the West Bank, aiming to prevent the forcible transfer of Palestinians, and improve their resilience. We concentrate on engaging all related parties in all stages of the project, from the identification of the communities’ problems, proposing an appropriate solution, selecting interventions, and then the implementation. Target people have a key role in identifying the appropriate responses to their needs.
If I ask myself what are my daily challenges? As a Palestinian working in Palestine, I know that maybe one day I might also need humanitarian assistance. But I try to keep an emotional distance between me and my work life. Creating work/life boundaries is important for that. At the end of the day, I must go home and be the best mother I can be for my son.
As a talkative person it is difficult to think of one word describing my mission here! Maybe a phrase: I am a Palestinian working for Palestinians. I might be in their place one day.
Moreover, my hopes for the future would be all about my son. I hope to secure a good future for him, in the difficult circumstances surrounding us in Palestine, and with the other global emergencies. A lot of Palestinian mothers have lost their children, and I hope never to be in that situation. I hope my son will have good access to education, financial stability, and to have a safe shelter and home.