“I was born into a community where a girl’s daily life consists of eating and cleaning,” said 25-year-old Hanaa Hilal. Her dark eyes reflect the life she has experienced as a Palestinian refugee raised in a conservative society at Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

When Hanaa was 10 years old her father passed away and her mother pulled her out of school. “Because I’m a girl I wasn’t allowed to learn, to go out, or to do anything a girl my age has the right to do,” she recalled sadly.

But Hanaa’s sister Raheel, by virtue of being younger, had a bit more freedom. Their mother had enrolled her in swimming classes for Palestinian refugee girls in the Women’s Program Center in Ein El Hilweh. When the director, Almaza Sherkawi, heard that there was an elder daughter kept at home, she insisted that Hanaa join the classes too.

And now here she is, dressed in bright red and white, sitting poolside at Hittine Swimming Club. Her story isn’t uncommon, either.

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Twenty-five year-old Hanaa Hilal poses poolside with her friend at Hittine Swimming Club.

“I always wanted to learn how to swim but never had the chance to,” explained Sabreen Mourad, a 24-year-old housewife who took swimming classes while pregnant. “My parents and husband both hesitated to allow me to participate, but in the end they accepted it because the pool is so close to my house.”

Even the swimming trainer herself struggled to get her parents to let her join the sports program as the lead swimmer. Rawan Jawad is a confident 18-year-old who comes from the nearby Mieh Mieh camp to coach girls at Ein El Hilweh. Rawan learned how to swim at a young age from her father, who was also a swimming coach. “I feel that I’m contributing to the lives of these girls,” Rawan said. “They enjoy the sessions a lot.”

Fifteen participants took eight classes in ANERA’s initial month-long pilot class, one of several youth refugee sports programs. It was so successful that 50 girls have already signed up for the next round of courses and the club set aside Tuesdays as the special day designated for girls and women only.

“This is a radical change,” said Maya Jezzini, ANERA’s youth program officer. “Women never had access to any of the swimming pools in the camp.”

The Girls’ Swimming Revolution

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Rawan, center, is the young teacher of girls’ swim classes. Lina and Mona, beside her, are two of her students.

Lina Khatib is a 19-year-old swimmer who convinced her older sister Mona to join in the classes as she recovered from surgery. “I am here to support my sister for I believe every girl should know how to swim,” said Khatib. “This is about empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves in the simplest form, to stand up for themselves. And to swim without needing someone to save them.”

ANERA partnered with the Women’s Program Center and Tadamon Association in Ein El Hilweh to organize these swimming classes for Palestinian refugee girls and women ages 14-24. The initiative began with a pilot program last month, in partnership with UNICEF, and with funding from UK Aid, German Cooperation and KFW.

Ibtisam Loubani is a 36-year-old mother of seven living in Nahr El Bared Camp, northern Lebanon. She feeds her family with the modest income she gathers as a private tutor. This is her family’s sole source of income, as Ibtisam’s husband is disabled after suffering from a stroke a few years ago.

Ibtisam’s family is among the 176,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon designated as poor or extremely poor, which amounts to about 73% of the total Palestinian refugee population there. And according to UNRWA, all Palestinians in Lebanon with a disabled head of household– like the Loubanis — live in extremely poor conditions. That means they live on no more than $2.17 per day.

Proper access to health care is of the biggest challenges Ibtisam faces, since the little money she makes is barely enough to feed her family. For this vulnerable family, health care is a privilege. Meals for Ibtisam’s children are prioritized over any medicine that costs more than a day’s worth of money.

Donated Medicine Lends a Helping Hand

Due to the poor socio-economic status of many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, AmeriCares recently donated a shipment of Mebendazole tablets, a medicine used to treat a number of parasitic worm infestations. Ideally, this medicine is prescribed twice per year to everyone over the age of 14 as a preventive measure. With this in-kind donation, the medicine will be available in all of the Palestinian refugee camps for the next year.

Many patients are not able to pay for both medical consultation and medicine, said the physician Dr. Hasan Barakeh. “Even if a clinic offers free consultation, it will be worthless if the medicine isn’t available.” This was also emphasized by Ibtisam, who wished that vital medicines like antibiotics were always on-hand.

Ibtisam and four of her children came to the clinic of the National Institute of Social Care and Vocational Training in Nahr El Bared Camp to take their biannual dosage. The clinic is nestled in an underprivileged area in the camp that is beyond UNRWA’s area of operations. An estimated 11,200 people use the clinic for dental care, reproductive health, pediatrics and mental health.

“I usually try my best to follow the doctor’s recommendations of taking Mebendazole twice per year,” said Ibtisam. “But if it wasn’t available in the clinic, I wouldn’t be able to afford it for my family.”

Clinic Building Before and After ANERA Renovation

The National Institute of Social Care and Vocational Training resides in the Beit Atfal Assmoud Center, which was badly damaged during clashes in Nahr El Bared in 2007. After ANERA’s renovation, the center is now able to provide refugees health care as well as many other services.

Kids love playing in messy sandboxes, where just digging around can provide hours of entertainment. But playtime is also a useful learning tool for developing children’s minds and bodies. And in Gaza, sand play helps keep kids and teachers motivated under harsh living conditions.

Sand play is part of an active learning in schools in Gaza, along with planting seeds and making pies. It’s a new concept that is very different from traditional teaching methods, which used passive and receptive learning.

Saanabel Preschool teacher Elena Naser took ANERA’s preschool teacher training courses, helping her understand concepts like children’s rights and the different stages of development.

“I loved how they combined theory with hands-on experience,” she said. “Playing with sand, for example, improves hand-eye coordination, which is important for writing, putting pencil to paper from right to left and top to bottom.”

Boy plays with sand in Gaza.

In the sandbox, kids learn basic concepts in a relaxing environment.

Another teacher, Suad Lubad, added, “Playing with sand helps children develop their motor skills. Sand also has a positive effect on children’s nerves because it increases blood circulation and activates muscles.”

In the Saanabel playground, Palestinian children work on their writing skills by drawing letters and numbers in the sand. This way, kids not only learn, but have great fun. Many added little penguins, chickens and imaginary characters to their writing exercises.

Sandbox activities can also help children grasp scientific concepts. Children learn the characteristics of dry and wet sand, how it flows through fingers, and its weight. “Wet sand is heavy and it can be turned into shapes,” said one child.

Growing Seeds of Learning in Gaza Schools

For little Saba, planting and watering seeds was the most enjoyable part of active learning. “The children love planting a few seeds in small cups,” said her teacher. “Then they monitor the growth of their little plants. They water the plants and tend to them every morning.”

Saba grew lentils and chickpeas in Gaza preschool

Little Saba grew lentils and chickpeas as part of her experiment.

Making Happy, Healthy ‘Pies’

Inside another preschool in the village of Ahel El Khiir, children engaged in yet another activity allowing them to explore the world through practice, experimentation, and making use of hand muscles: they followed a recipe to make their own food creation.

“When children make healthy meals, they learn and experience the meaning of health. They won’t forget what they did because it will be carved into their subconscious memories,” said Suad. “Children also learn the importance of food cleanliness, hand washing, wearing clean clothes, and keeping a clean kitchen.”

Girl experiments with food to learn healthy eating in Gaza

Farah made a healthy and happy ‘pie’ with help from her teacher and classmates.

The children’s eyes glowed as they took in all the colors of different foods neatly arranged on the classroom table. “We decorated our food with eyes, noses and smiley faces made with vegetables,” said preschooler Farah.

With funding from Islamic Relief USA, ANERA has helped transform 10 schools in Gaza to enhance preschool education. The project includes renovation, teacher training and equipping classrooms with child-appropriate furnishings and educational materials. ANERA has reached a total of 26 preschools in Gaza since 2013.

Eman teaches computer science in Lebanon

International Youth Day 2016

August 11th, 2016 by ANERA

August 12 is International Youth Day, when we draw attention to youth issues and celebrate the role young people have in creating a brighter future for us all.

As the crisis in Syria enters its sixth year, the influx of refugees from that war-torn country into Lebanon continues to overwhelm Lebanese economic and academic institutions. More than half of the refugees who have entered are under 18 years old. Schools cannot accommodate the surge of youth and most adolescents feel they must enter the workforce to support themselves and their families.

ANERA designed remedial education courses and job skills training to appeal to refugees who are unable or unwilling, for a host of good and valid reasons, to attend school. Short, intensive and interactive courses are held in the evening to accommodate work schedules. Sports and recreational activities attract youth to the program and are key to reducing isolation and despair. The project − implemented in partnership with UNICEF, with funds from UK Aid, German Cooperation and KFW − is reaching tens of thousands of youths, including Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese students.

Check out our slideshow and meet a few inspiring young people.

Samiha takes ANERA sewing workshop
Mohammad teaches English in Beddawi
Dabke dance in Ein El Hilweh
Rawan teaches swimming classes in Ein El Hilweh
Hassan fled Syria and takes ANERA classes
Fares takes ANERA phone class
Zeinab teaches soccer to girls in Bebnine
Eman teaches computer science

Samiha, a 16-year-old Syrian girl living in Beddawi camp, says she hopes to open her own business in fashion design using the skills she learned in ANERA’s sewing workshop. “I love fashion design. And through this workshop I can make my sketches come to life."

Mohammad teaches English to children in Beddawi, north Lebanon. "My job is a great way to help kids."

Boys and girls in Ein El Hilweh learn traditional dabke dance routines. Practice makes perfect!

Swimming comes easy to Rawan, the daughter of a swimmer from Mieh Mieh camp in Lebanon. She puts her skills to use by teaching swimming classes to girls and women aged 14-24 in nearby Ein El Hilweh. Many girls who hadn’t tried to swim before can now paddle circles around Rawan.

Hassan fled Syria four years ago and settled in Bhanine, northern Lebanon. The teenager can’t enroll in formal schooling and instead takes ANERA’s classes. "I come here to learn what I missed in school,” he says.

Fares, a 16-year-old Syrian refugee, supports his family by repairing phones in Fneidek. With skills he learned in ANERA’s classes, Fares can envision a better future. “I am living my dream every day now and I am inspired to pursue it until I can open a shop in Syria when the war ends.”

Zeinab came to Bebnine all the way from Cairo to teach girls how to play soccer as part of ANERA’s Sports for Peace project. “Soccer is a great tool for development, especially for young girls in conservative communities who don’t often get the chance to play outside. Soccer offers them the opportunity to meet others, work out and break gender boundaries.”

Eman teaches young students a computer science workshop covering basics like Microsoft Office.

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Ismail is wheezing and breathless before he can finish explaining his chronic condition. He’s asthmatic, and today he sits on a hospital bed in the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Dura, a town southwest of Hebron.

The 46-year-old works with construction and heavy machinery, and even wearing a face mask doesn’t guard him from constant asthma attacks. He’s always ready to fight an attack with the inhaler he keeps in his pocket, but the inhaler can only do so much to ease his pain. Each day after work, he rushes home to use a nebulizer to bring his breathing back to normal.

Ismail’s doctor at the Red Crescent Society, Dr. Ali Ghrayeb, prescribes him Albuterol Sulfate. Because his asthma is severe, Ismail requires about three bottles of Albuterol per month — and sometimes even more when his condition worsens because of spring allergies and bad weather.

Asthma patient

Dr. Ali Ghrayeb prescribes Ismail donated Albuterol Sulfate to treat his asthma

Donated Medicine Offers a Better Alternative

As part of the in-kind program, ANERA distributed Direct Relief’s donation of 500 Albuterol packs among seven clinics in the West Bank, including the Red Crescent Society in Dura. Now Ismail doesn’t have to worry about setting money aside for his illness. He also found Albuterol to be a more effective medication for his condition.

Before the Albuterol donation, Ismail had to combine two different medicines to use his nebulizer. The combination caused him heart palpitations and tremors, and was also time consuming because he had to measure and mix the two components in order to use the device.

“It’s so much easier to use that sometimes my youngest daughter prepares my nebulizer for me when I’m on my way home,” said Ismail. “We call her our little family doctor because she has become so good at it.”

According to Dr. Ghrayeb, the donated medicine is particularly helpful for asthma patients who also have a heart condition, because it doesn’t cause side effects like heart palpitations. Patients like Ismail are able to dodge side effects and save time with this top-of-the-line medical donation.

Now, Ismail can breathe a little easier.