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Lebanon: “I feel that volunteering in general creates a new person”

Douaa El Mahmoud, Syrian Refugee and Law student in her garden next to her tent in an informal tented settlement located in Baaloul, Bekaa.

Douaa El Mahmoud, Syrian Refugee and Law student in her garden. (Photo Credit: Maria Klenner for Action Against Hunger Lebanon / Story: Carmen Moreno for Action Against Hunger) 

An innovative approach to engage and empower refugees to look for a better future.

“I feel that volunteering in general creates a new person”, Douaa El Mahmoud.

Douaa El Mahmoud is a Syrian refugee who worked with Action Against Hunger (AAH) Lebanon as a focal point conducting hygiene promotion awareness sessions in the informal tented settlement in Baaloul in the Bekaa Valley. This initiative inspired the community to adopt best practices as well as encourage her to improve her own situation and apply for an academic scholarship. Thanks to her motivation, she is now studying Law at the University.

HYGIENE PROMOTION THROUGH COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Action Against Hunger Lebanon has been leading an innovative strategic response within a consortium with Relief International (RI), Médecins du Monde (MdM) and Première Urgence Internationale (PUI) kindly supported by USAID.

Based on a community-engagement approach, it consisted of working with trusted community members like Douaa who acted as community mobilisers and focal points in their informal tented settlements. Previously selected and trained, they conducted various hygiene awareness sessions including personal hygiene, waterborne diseases, water treatment, latrine cleanliness and waste management. Different COVID-19 related topics were also included such as symptoms and precautions, safe isolation, cleaning and disinfection of homes and surfaces, safe usage of masks, benefits of the vaccination and steps to get registered on the vaccination national platform.

This reliance on the right holders themselves to raise awareness alleviated the taboo around the disease that usually prevents the refugee population from reporting positive cases, taking preventive measures or getting registered for the vaccination. After the program, we observed an increase in the number of reporting cases, and 35 of the community mobilisers and other members of the community were registered on the vaccination platform, some of them having already received the vaccine. The results also showed a positive impact on social cohesion and women empowerment, since the sessions brought people from different ages and backgrounds together and enabled women and girls to participate actively in community activities outside their households.

Action Against Hunger Lebanon staff training focal points and community mobilisers in COVID-19 and waterborne diseases’ prevention.

           Action Against Hunger Lebanon staff training focal points and community mobilisers in COVID-19 and waterborne diseases’ prevention.      

BUILDING RESILIENCE, CREATING A BETTER FUTURE

‘All Action Against Hunger’s staff I met made me feel that there is no difference between us when doing the work. We communicated very easily, and the training was pretty lively and dynamic’, Douaa highlights.

Our hygiene promotion team is also very pleased with Douaa’s contribution and consider her a fast learner that always tries to help other focal points:She was the first one to send the required data online when our team was unable to do it during the lockdown, which motivated several community mobilizers and other focal points to do the same. Thanks to her involvement, our work had a greater impact’, an AAH’s field officer remarks.

Douaa in front of her tent where she lives with her parents and siblings.          Douaa in front of her tent where she lives with her parents and siblings.

Seven years before this experience, Douaa left Syria when she was still in secondary school to seek asylum in Lebanon. Like most of the refugee children, she faced many difficulties to continue her education. She lives in a remote and overcrowded refugee informal tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley, where privacy barely exists, not to mention a proper space to study. She used to wait for her family to go to sleep to study at night and sleep during the day. Despite this challenging environment, she finally succeeded in completing secondary school, although this seemed to be the final stage of her education. The major barriers to access university that most Syrian refugees are confronting—mainly the legal status, the unaffordable tuition fees, and the social obstacles that she already had to overcome—prevented Douaa from even considering a scholarship as an option. With no future in sight, she heard about our project and decided to apply to volunteer with us. After having successfully passed the selection process, she performed excellent work that contributed to upgrading the overall hygiene levels in the area.

‘The most important thing for me as a resident is the cleanliness of the settlement, so when I speak to the people and raise awareness among children, I am happy because I contribute. It is a beautiful work, and it is beautiful to volunteer because it makes you feel your value and the value of what you do, and it is even more beautiful when everyone accepts you during your work. It is very beautiful to connect with everyone: educated people, non-educated people, children… so I feel that volunteering in general creates a new person.’, the young girl explains.

Her participation in the project encouraged Douaa to apply for a scholarship at the Lebanese University. She is now a bright Law student with ambitious plans and a promising career. This shows that enhancing refugees’ autonomy can help improve self-confidence, encourage opportunities, and consequently improve their lives.

‘I dedicate myself to be a successful person, so in five years, I see myself as a successful person, trying to leave my mark in society. I also want to write, and I am working on a book idea. I hope in five years there will be a published book with my name on it. I hope!”

 

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