“I was four years old the first time I tried to smoke,” said Ahmad Kaddoura, recalling his childhood memories at Al Rashidiyyeh Camp for Palestinian refugees in Tyre, Lebanon. “We had a hidden corner for cigarette packets at home, so it wasn’t that hard to figure it out, and sneak and try one.”

According to the World Health Organization’s latest report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic (2015), the rate of tobacco prevalence among youth ages 13-15 in Lebanon is 36.2%, and 38.5% among adults over 18 years old.

Cigarettes are easily accessible in Lebanon. You can find them in most shops and kiosks around the country for a very minimal price. A pack of 20 cigarettes costs less than a dollar.

Here in the camp, you can take whatever amount of money you have, even if you can’t afford a full pack, and the shopkeeper will give you several cigarettes in return,” said Ahmad. “Even if you take one cent you’d still get cigarettes.”

By the time Ahmad was 10 years old, he started to smoke regularly along with his school friends. “All smokers know that smoking is bad for you, but only few are able to quit.”


Karim and Dana, siblings, are learning health skills through football courses in Lebanon, like the one Ahmad helps oversee.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon cannot legally work in most sectors. Because of this, Ahmad traveled abroad to work after graduating from university, and this further increased his cigarette consumption. “At the camp I used to smoke with friends as a social activity, but abroad I used to do it out of loneliness, smoking four to five packets a day.”

Ahmad Becomes a Role Model for Kids

Now that he’s back in Lebanon, Ahmad is in charge of administration at Al Awda sports club in Al Rashidiyyeh Camp. His current position has made him think twice about smoking, especially since he works with many adolescents. “You can’t tell youth not to smoke while they know you are a smoker,” Ahmad said. “Children look up to me as a role model and I feel the responsibility to guide them to adopt healthy lifestyles.”

“I hope that every child here gets the opportunity to learn something new and to develop their skills, rather than playing on the streets un-monitored and smoking cigarettes, and even doing drugs,” Ahmad concluded.

Ahmad quit smoking in February, one week after completing a drug awareness course targeting sports providers. The course is part of ANERA’s youth sports and development program, in partnership with Street Football World and with funds from UEFA Foundation for Children and the German Federal Foreign Office.

Imneizel is home to a Bedouin community that relies on livestock and agriculture to survive in an almost desert-like climate. A remote “Area C” village in the Hebron Governorate, Imneizel had no water network until ANERA’s Palestinian Community Infrastructure and Development (PCID) program intervened to build a water tank and install water pipes and house connections.

Now, Hajje Fatmeh washes her hands in water flowing from a new tap. An old lady in her 80s, the wrinkles on her face and hands tell stories of years of hard work. An embroidered braid decorates her head and defines a sense of belonging to the village traditions.

Hajje Fatmeh recounts the innumerable hardships she had to bear to provide water for her household and cattle. “I endured a lot to get water for my family. I would walk for an hour every other day to the village well and carry back five buckets of water – four on the donkey and one on top of my head!”

The days of carrying water in buckets are over for Hajje Fatmeh and other Bedoiuns in Palestine.

The days of carrying water in buckets are over for Hajje Fatmeh and her neighbors.

Finally, Enough Water for Hajje Fatmeh and her Cattle

Collecting enough water has always been Fatmeh’s primary concern. “I would wake up thinking about it and go to sleep worrying about the next day’s struggle to collect water,” she explains. Fatmeh had to make sure she had enough water for drinking, cleaning, cooking, and above all, watering her cattle. Fatmeh sighs, “My cattle are my bread and butter. We have almost thirty heads and it’s my responsibility to make sure they have enough water.”

The community of Imneizel also need lots of water for preparing their traditional yogurt, kashk, which they produce from their cattle. Fatmeh explains, “It’s a long process. We start with the milk and end up with hardened yogurt. To reach to the final stage, we really need a lot of water.”

Now that Hajje Fatmeh can access clean, piped water, she could not be happier. “I have lived my whole life in Imneizel. Many people had to leave because of the lack of water. But this is where I belong and enjoying water in my home is a blessing and a reward for all my years of suffering!”

From someone who has endured so much hardship just to access water for years, take this advice from Hajje Fatmeh, “Fight for every drop of water. Having [water] in your home is a blessing of incalculable worth!”

This project is funded by USAID. Learn more about ANERA’s  PCID program in Palestine>>

Moaz Shawaf is a student in the ninth grade, who lives in the southern part of Gaza. The 15-year-old teen contracted meningitis at a young age, leaving him deaf. The news came as a surprise to the whole family, as none of his five siblings have hearing problems. Moaz was only four when he started going to the PRCS center. With his family and teachers’ support, he began to progress and improve as he got older. His bubbly personality caught the attention of his teachers. “He is active and he likes to befriend all people, even those older than him,” says the school director Maha Al-Ghandour.

New Soccer Pitch Delights Moaz and His Peers

With music and drums in the background, 12 team players in red shirts start the soccer game. Moaz beams with happiness when he explains, in sign language, how much he loves to be part of the game and the team.

On the new grass soccer pitch, Moaz and his classmates, along with coaches, play a high-energy game. “They are full of energy when they’re in an uplifting, open environment,” Maha points out.

Moaz is a popular teen at the Gaza rehabilitation center because of his optimism and perseverance.

Moaz is a popular teen on and off the soccer pitch because of his optimism and enthusiasm.

With only a narrow, closed area for sports inside in the compound, Moaz and his fellow students were not able to practice any of the games they enjoy. All activities were limited to certain types of sports that did not need large spaces.  Now, the new grass pitch affords a space to play football and other activities. “Sports definitely enhances their abilities and skills as well as their overall wellbeing,” Maha explains.

Moaz’s talents and quick learning skills make him a popular teen among his classmates. Nothing seems to stop Moaz from pursuing his love of soccer and communicating with the world around him. He is active on social media and has an account on Facebook to communicate with a wide circle of friends. “When I finish school, I want to be a doctor and I hope one day to win a national soccer contest,” Moaz signs.

“Moaz always feels upbeat when talking about sports. He is so popular; he often teases his teachers by cheering for the opposing soccer team! However, he’s confident that his team will always win,” says Maha.

“Sports are great for relieving the stress of a long school day, and helps the children let go of their frustrations,” Maha adds.

Improvements to the PRCS Ground Floor Rehabilitation Center have advanced the Center’s ability to provide better vocational training, rehabilitation and remedial services to more than 330 persons with disabilities. Prior to the renovation, deteriorated sewage pipes forced people with disabilities to use bathrooms outside the building, and broken elevators limited access to upper floors. Under ANERA’s USAID-funded Palestinian Community Infrastructure and Development (PCID) project, rehabilitation and remodeling work have created a welcoming, hygienic and healthy space that accommodates the needs of people with disabilities in Gaza.

To encourage youth in rural areas to contribute to their communities and address social problems, ANERA is giving teens the chance to take charge. The aim is to help youth bring their own innovative solutions to life, by providing financial as well as logistical support. These initiatives positively affect youth by sharpening their job and life skills and offering platforms to prove themselves.

Engaging youth in community development activities is a major component of ANERA’s projects for Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians. It’s implemented in partnership with UNICEF, and with funding from UK Aid, German Cooperation and USBPRM.

Last year, more than 37,000 youth benefited from sports, health, and education activities implemented by ANERA and local partners as part of the project. Youth-led initiatives proved to be of great efficiency when it comes to serving the community on one hand, and on the other to equipping youth with life skills and values, like confidence, cooperation, and teamwork.

Teen distributes winter items to help victims of refugee crisis.

A teen sorts winter relief items for Syrian refugees in the Bekaa.

Teens Lead Blood Drive in Bekaa

In Saadnayel, Bekaa, 12 Lebanese and Palestinian youths addressed one of the problems the area has been facing: lack of a blood bank. Wael Saleh came up with the idea for the initiative after a personal story he experienced few months ago.

“A friend of mine was in the hospital and urgently needed a blood unit, but I spent a whole day trying to find a potential donor to save his life,” he said. “Having a blood bank will ensure that incidents like this won’t recur, as the database will be circulated to local NGOs, dispensaries, mayors, and nearby hospitals.”

For this purpose, a free blood test was offered in coordination with a local laboratory. Interested residents took the blood test and registered their names and contact information with the database.

The blood donation was managed by a local pathologist, Dr. Youssef Haddad, who devoted his time and effort to ensure safe and thorough advancement of blood testing to residents. “Every human should know his or her blood type, especially since we live in a conflict area, but unfortunately many are clueless about that,” he noted.

“Together We Stay Warm”

The Bekaa Valley was hit hard by the refugee crisis. It accommodates more than 400,00 Syrian refugees, according to recent vulnerability assessment. These Syrian refugees add to a population of poor Lebanese and Palestinians that were already living in the area.

Poverty among refugees and the host community encouraged Ziad Araji to team up with fourteen of his friends and acquaintances to start the initiative, ‘Together we stay warm’ (maa baoud ma fi bared), to collect and distribute winter items for vulnerable families.

"Together We Stay Warm" helps victims of refugee crisis in Lebanon.

Ziad and his friends started the “Together we stay warm” initiative to help refugees in the Bekaa Valley this winter.

“For one month, we placed boxes for in-kind donations of clothes and shoes in 30 local centers and schools in the village. We sorted, cleaned and repackaged what we received before distributing them to tented settlements for Syrian refugees and needy Lebanese families,” said Ziad. In total, more than 5,000 in-kind winter items were received, and they were then distributed to around 1,000 families from different communities in Bar Elias, Bekaa. The project was applauded in the village, and the mayor accompanied the youth to guide them to poorest tented settlements.

“There are around 125,000 Syrian refugees in Bar Elias living in very critical conditions, and families from the host community are living in poor conditions too, given the scarcity of work opportunities,” said Ziad Abdul Ghani, the Mayor of Bar Elias. “Initiatives like these are a great support to families here.”

Youth-led activities have encouraged youth to launch similar initiatives to serve their local communities. This is the case in Bar Elias, where Lama Sarout, one of the volunteers in the initiative, suggested a similar project to collect food for poor families.

Youth-led initiatives were implemented in different project locations, and though they have engaged around 60 youth only, their impact has been huge on surrounding local communities.

It’s not yet summertime in Gaza, but tomatoes are already flourishing inside Khaled’s greenhouse. As a home gardener, he planted the seedlings a couple of months ago, hoping to reap all the benefits with the tender care he gave them.

Khaled fell on hard times since the Gaza blockade began 10 years ago, and he couldn’t afford the high cost farming tools. Like many poor families in Gaza, his was dependent on food assistance. Seeds, soil and water were just out of reach.

“I was pushed to leave farming and look for other work options,” he said. But other options are hard to come by in Gaza, which has the world’s highest unemployment rate.

Now that he has the greenhouse, he can generate a steady income. “The greenhouse gives me hope. I can grow crops in any season, even when the outside weather is the wrong season for harvest.” He received his greenhouse, irrigation pipes, and seedlings from ANERA’s food security initiative.

Khaled received a new Gaza greenhouse. This is where he lives with his family.

Khaled and his kids in front of their home in Deir El Balah, Gaza.

Gaza Greenhouses Boost Market Earnings, Living Conditions

ANERA provided 14 extremely poor families in Deir El Balah with greenhouses and tools, as well as training in agricultural best practices.

“I can grow different types of vegetables in my greenhouse. This helps me feed my family, and then I can sell the rest in the market,” Khaled said.

In greenhouses, poor farmers can grow produce that they could not otherwise plant in open fields. According to Khaled, “Gaza greenhouses are five times more productive than open-field planting.”

With a quick calculation, Khaled found that the tomato harvest produced 30 kilograms for consumption by his extended family of 20 people, and then he had an additional 80 kilograms to sell in the market per week.

Khaled said the greenhouse harvest is of the best quality because of all the care and attention he gives to each plant. “The tomatoes are always fresh,” he said.

Since Khaled received his greenhouse, he and his family have already seen improvement in their living situation. “With the money I get from selling the tomatoes, I enrolled my family in decent health care insurance, pay for treatment for my ill wife, and also purchased schoolbooks for my children.”

Gaza greenhouses are five times more productive than open-field planting.

Khaled with his son Ahmed in the new greenhouse, which Khaled says is much more productive than open-field farming.

Solar Power Combats Gaza Electricity Crisis

Because of Gaza’s constant power cuts, the project also introduced families to the idea of using solar energy to reduce their dependency on other power systems. They can use solar cookers to boil water and cook meals. The solar cooker is especially handy during Gaza’s hot, sunny summers.

For the next harvest, Khaled has big plans. “I expect to pay all my debts and renovate my decaying house.”

Gaza greenhouses produce fresh tomatoes that the kids love!

The kids enjoy fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse for an afternoon snack.