NEF’s legacy is built on the strong relationships it has built with local partners to successfully implement our programs in some of the most challenging parts of the world. In Lebanon, NEF has established three Siraj Centers or community hubs where we conduct livelihoods programming as well as community drop-in and outreach services. These centers are housed by two civil society organizations, Hadatha Association and arcenciel. We are grateful for these partnerships as well as the support that their outstanding volunteers and staff provide. They play an integral role in allowing us to deliver life-changing services to the communities we serve, and they do it with the highest standards of integrity and ethics. Read on to hear directly from our volunteers from Hadatha Association and arcenciel.
Profiles and photos produced by Cassandra Mathie (October 2018)
Volunteering For Change
Hadatha Association volunteers, Akkar
The foyer of the Hadatha Association, a community-based organization, and NEF’s partner in North Lebanon is full of activity. A stream of people flows in and out of the foyer, some stop to chat and check the noticeboards for updates, others walk with a definite sense of purpose to one of the many doors that lead off the hall.
To the right, a door with a striking orange logo has a single word – ‘Siraj’, Arabic for lamp or light. This office is home to one of NEF’s three community-based livelihoods hubs. Staffed by a team of volunteers, the hubs are at the core of NEF’s livelihoods project. They operate as both a drop-in and outreach center and with volunteer support provide a critical link, lighting the way, between the project and community.
The six-strong Siraj team of the Akkar hub are diverse but driven by a common motivation to contribute to their own community. “I want to help, I want to support people without the expectation of getting anything in return,” said Rihab, who is the youngest member of the team and has volunteered in her community for over 10 years.
Tasked with ensuring income generating activities identify and support the most vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugees, NEF invests significantly in the volunteers. From learning about business development and financial literacy, to participating in non-violent communication and gender-based violence awareness workshops, the volunteers, who manage a caseload of up to 2,000 beneficiaries a year, recognize the personal and professional skills they have gained and applied in their roles.
Malak reported her communication skills have flourished during project implementation, “I have gained so much confidence, I can talk to all different types of people now, much more than before.” For fellow volunteer Ahmad the project has had a similarly positive impact. He cites the professional experience of being part of a team and networking opportunities as key highlights but is most proud of becoming a trainer.
“I want to help, I want to support people without the expectation of getting anything in return.”
Committed to Building Relationships
Hadatha Associatin volunteers, Minieh
Half an hour away from Akkar, in the neighboring district of Minieh, four volunteers sit around a single desk in the small front room of another Hadatha-managed center. Chatting animatedly, they consult a single laptop, and shuffle papers among themselves as they coordinate trainings, home visits and follow up phone calls, all a part of their daily schedule.
Volunteering with NEF is Safa’s first job since graduating with an accounting degree, “This opportunity has opened my eyes to the reality of other people’s lives,” she said, admitting she is now questioning her chosen field of study. “I have developed a connection to my community and to people, this is not something I have experienced before.”
The relationships the Minieh Siraj team has brokered with beneficiaries is remarkable. As they work through a list of cases to follow up, the four volunteers contribute and recall intimate details of each families’ histories, challenges, successes and plans, an indication of the seriousness of their commitment to the project and the authenticity of the bonds they have made.
“Building trust between Siraj and the community is the most critical part of our work. Families need to be confident and we need to understand them,” explained Syrian volunteer Amira, who knows first-hand the challenges that come with forced displacement.
“Building trust between Siraj and the community is the most critical part of our work. Families need to be confident and we need to understand them.”
Witnessing Impact and Changing Lives
arcenciel volunteers, Bekaa
NEF’s third community-based livelihoods hub is in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, located in the rural village of Taanayel. Against a backdrop of agricultural fields and just 26km from the Syrian border, four Siraj volunteers implement the NEF project in partnership with well-known Lebanese NGO, arcenciel.
While sharing a morning coffee, a rich brew with cardamom from espresso sized paper cups, the energy, determination and passion that runs within the team of young volunteers is noticeable as they reflect on the impact they have seen.
“It’s a cliché, but we are teaching people to fish,” explained Alaa, referring to the proverb that compares giving a handout to providing a person with the tools to improve themselves. “Teaching people to be self-reliant is important, there is a growing dependency on projects that are just giving aid” added the volunteer who fled Syria due to the conflict.
“We are seeing lives changing” said another volunteer, Hussam, who like Alaa has sought refuge with his family in Lebanon. “We work with hundreds of people, but there are some stories and names I will never forget. Through this project I am serving my community, and helping them stand on their feet again.”
Taking the time to reflect, arcenciel Siraj volunteer Abeer, also from Syria, is confident that the project has adopted the right approach to reduce vulnerability, “I saw firsthand how small things make a big difference,” she said, referring to the cash grants vulnerable entrepreneurs receive as seed funding for businesses. “$850 USD may not seem like much, but it changes everyday life of the people we serve.”
For Lebanese volunteer Juliana, the experience of working on the project has been equally as meaningful, “I saw something new, felt something different. It is indescribable to explain how it feels to be so valued in the eyes of others.”
“We work with hundreds of people, but there are some stories and names I will never forget. Through this project I am serving my community, and helping them stand on their feet again.”