Over 400,000 Palestinian refugees have been registered by the Lebanese authorities, though with emigration to other countries, the actual number currently living in Lebanon is likely to be nearer 250,000. These refugees live mainly in camps, of which Ein el-Hilweh and Nahr-el-Bared are the largest.
During the conflict of 2007, the Nahr el-Bared camp was destroyed, displacing its 27,000 Palestinian residents. Nearly four years on and the effects of this crisis are still being felt by the displaced. Reconstruction of the camp has been slow and UNRWA has been using donations to support the basic needs of the refugees in providing shelter, food, water and sanitation, as well as health and education services. UNRWA has also been active in trying to build economic recovery in the region by sponsoring initiatives such as business grants, employment service centres and vocational training and apprenticeships.
In this work, the agency is joined by other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA). To support the many young people left without work or income following the conflict of 2007, ANERA has been involved in organising vocational training programmes in Nahr El Bared for underprivileged youth. This training specialises in three subjects – plumbing, autoCAD/3D max and graphic design. Supporting around 70 young men and women, these vocational courses provide youth in the camp with a way to learn essential skills in a short space of time and certificates which help them gain work.
19-year old Moghamas learned to be a plumber through the vocational scheme and says it was probably “the best thing that has ever happened to me”. After graduation, he was able to find work quickly and now supports his parents and six siblings with his income. With a graphic design certificate, another young woman, Mariam Barakeh, was able to leave a secretarial job where her opportunities were limited. Now Mariam feels she has been given the chance to have a good career, which is also fun.
As well as offering individuals a path to finding employment, ANERA believes that such vocational training is important for the wider community of Palestinian refugees. The successes of the youngsters spark a sense of hope for others that they can rebuild their lives and find employment to support themselves and their families.