Ahmad Kassem El Jaber is 16 years old. He lives in Ein El Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon. His life is far from easy: he has had multiple sclerosis since the age of three, which affected the nerves in his brain and spinal cord, limiting his muscle movement, balance and vision.

At six, Ahmad entered UNRWA’s school, but it wasn’t fun. He couldn’t take part in any sports activity and it took him a long time just to walk up and down the stairs to class. He faced constant bullying and often spent recess in the principal’s office to avoid the other kids.

“At school, kids used to hit me and run, knowing that I couldn’t follow them with my crutches. I was full of anger, disappointment, shame. I went home and cried my heart out. I told my parents I wanted to leave school.” Ahmad was only eight years old at the time. His parents tried to persuade him to go to school but he just wanted to stay home and hide.

Eventually he dropped out of school. “My health deteriorated,” he continues. “I went from crutches to a wheel chair and my feet were getting weaker so going to school or doing anything was mission impossible.”

Ahmad didn’t want to be a financial burden to his family so at 14 he joined a vocational training course. “I was doing well, but I needed to go to the bathroom a lot and the teacher didn’t help or understand my condition, so I left and didn’t go back.”

classes for refugees in lebanon: ahmad and brother

Now that Ahmad, shown here with his younfer brother, is attending ANERA’s non-formal education classes, he is determined to succeed.

ANERA’s Classes for Refugee Youth in Lebanon Open Doors

Ahmad’s life took a turn for the better when a social worker from the community organization Najdeh Association told his mother about a new program, designed by UNICEF and implemented by ANERA, to provide classes for refugee youth in Lebanon. The program works with teens who have dropped out of school for a variety of reasons, including health problems.

ANERA’s innovative refugee non-formal education model is tailored to the needs of a target group of some 5,000 underserved Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese boys and girls between 14-18 years of age. The program, which operates in both northern and southern Lebanon with support from UNICEF, teaches critical skills through a flexible study program focused on math, English and Arabic. The program also helps reintegrate youth into the formal education system and improves job prospects through transferable and vocational skills training.

“Now I know I will have the skills to earn a living, and I will save money, have my own family and raise my children to be happy and strong…”

Under ANERA’s supervision, Ahmad was persuaded to join the courses, which are designed to be inclusive for all students. including children with disabilities. Centers are equipped with elevators or classes are organized on the ground floor. When Ahmad arrived for class he saw one important benefit: no stairs. It was easy for him to get to class. And the courses did not exceed three hours so he could return to the privacy of his own home to use the bathroom, which had always been a challenge at school.

Ahmad Becomes Determined to Succeed in School

Two weeks after class began, Ahmad had surgery on his legs to help him to walk. But he is determined now to return to school. “I love the teachers and made some new friends, because we all realized we come from the same background and shared the same experience — dropping out of school,” he explains. “But here nobody judges anyone for that. We all have been victims of circumstance.” Ahmad is determined to finish the course and find a job to be independent and less of a financial burden to his family.

Ahmad admits he used to wish he would just die, but not anymore. “Now I know I will have the skills to earn a living, and I will save money, have my own family and raise my children to be happy and strong and not let anyone stop them from doing whatever it takes to be independent and successful.”

In January 2008, I began my journey with ANERA. I call it a journey, because that is exactly what I’ve been doing in my job as an in-kind field assistant, delivering medicine in the West Bank. I am on the road all day traveling between Hebron down south and up north to Jenin, to visit medical centers, clinics and hospitals.

My car is my companion and co-worker. That white manual Peugeot Partner has endured me and my hefty boxes of medicinal supplies for seven years. It has helped me deliver vital medicines to anxious partners and life-saving medications that benefited children and adults alike.

I take good care of my car and it hasn’t failed me yet, except for an occasional flat tire or a few problems with the air-conditioning. I admit that was not pleasant when I found myself stranded in a remote area on the outskirts of Hebron with the outside temperature hovering at 104 °F degrees! But, other than that, we’re a good team.

Delivering medicine in Palestine: Mohammad and van

Muhammad and his “co-worker,” his trusty Peugeot Partner are proud to help their community.

One might think it’s quite draining to be constantly moving around from place to place every day. It’s true. But, the travel has its benefits too. Our in-kind manager and pharmacist Hani Kleif knows what I mean. He spends his work day in our warehouse, mostly glued to his computer and surrounded by piles of huge boxes.

I think I got the better job. Why? Because I get to talk face-to-face with our partners and the patients we help. I get to see their faces light up when I deliver a box of critical medicines they’ve run out of. I see and feel their relief as they place the newly delivered medicine bottles on once empty shelves. I can watch a sick person smile again as the doctor lets them know their health problem is treatable and they just need to ask the pharmacist for the medicine, which will be free, thanks to my deliveries. And, I know that these patients now have a strong shoulder to lean on in their darkest hours of need.

Delivering medicine in Palestine: unloading the van

Muhammad and the pharmacist at the Hebron clinic unload new medicines, checking them against a stock list.

Our in-kind program has lent a helping hand to people in need since 1983. And it has enabled people like me and Hani, to be part of it. How much more fortunate can we be?

“…It gives me no greater joy than to know that my neighbors and their loved ones are not forgotten.”

I only wish that all our in-kind partners and donors could visit us and see first-hand the tremendous impact they’ve had on the lives of thousands of men, women and children, to see what we see and feel our accomplishments and our joy.

Personally, every accomplishment makes me feel more deeply rooted  in Palestine. I come from the town of Idhna in Hebron, and it makes me proud to work with an organization that has repeatedly helped my town and reached out to its most needy and marginalized residents.

I feel blessed to be able to directly serve my own community and it gives me no greater joy than to know that my neighbors and their loved ones are not forgotten. Our team delivers more than just boxes of medicines. We deliver care and love directly from our hearts, from one heart to another.

Delivering medicine in Palestine at the pharmacy

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“When we first opened the newly rehabilitated kindergarten, the children started running around, full of joy and excitement, ” preschool teacher Sarah Mchayrfe says, smiling at the memory. “They thought it was a new public park.”

Sarah teaches at the Najdeh preschool in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.  ANERA renovated her school, thanks to generous funding from UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). The school in Shatila and another in Burj El Shemali camp in southern Lebanon are being renovated as part of the ANERA-UMCOR partnership that already has repaired and improved schools in Burj El Barajneh and Ein El Helweh camps.

The aim of the program is to create a classroom environment that gives refugee children, aged three to six years, a safe, child-friendly and encouraging space to learn, play and socialize.

pink and green walls of lebanon camp preschool

The Burj El Shemali preschool has updated windows, repaired and painted walls, and new window trimmings.

ANERA identified the two preschools in consultation with its community-based partners. The facilities accommodate more than 340 children from diverse nationalities, including Palestinians, Palestinian refugees from Syria, Lebanese, and Syrian refugees.

Nadine Abdallah, ANERA’s public health specialist reports a positive impact on the children, teachers and parents. “The impact comes from transforming the preschools into safe and hazard-free area with improved access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, recreational spaces, and a healthy and supportive educational environment.”   

Four-year-old Ahmad Majed couldn’t contain his joy at seeing his new classroom. “I am so happy with our new preschool because there’s more space to play. Before we didn’t have any toys and the walls were broken but now look at all the new toys and colors.”

Repaired Walls & New Paint


Restoring Safety and Calm in Lebanon Refugee Camps

The rehabilitation of the classrooms has transformed the space into a very bright, colorful and safe environment.  Pink and green walls—colors carefully chosen for their impact on young learners—match the child-sized cubbies and book shelves. Most importantly, the renovations included safer stairs, improved electrical safety, more hygienic bathrooms and sinks, and insulation for the roof to prevent the mold caused by humidity, which so often ruins building in the camps.

New Sinks


Additionally, the playgrounds in both preschools were rehabilitated and equipped with colorful tables, benches, receptacles, water fountains, swings and outdoors toys, and turned into a space for the children to play together and hold large class activities.

The renovation of these preschools has helped foster a healthy and safe environment for children in Lebanon refugee camps to learn and socialize in, restoring a relative sense of normalcy in their lives in otherwise very abnormal and difficult circumstances.

Preschool teacher Sarah Mchayerfe says ANERA’s program also includes some teacher training. “We learned some new teaching methods and more about interactive learning.” Another bonus, she says, is a private room for the teachers “where we can meet with each other and talk with parents who play a major role in helping us set curriculums and deal with problems.”  

One of the major concerns, she adds, has been overcrowded classrooms but not so much anymore. “Now we have more spacious, colorful and fully equipped classrooms that make it so much easier for us to offer a higher quality of education.”

A Much-Needed Kitchen Upgrade


Learn more about ANERA’s early childhood development program in Palestine and Lebanon.

The summer’s heat can be tough, and dehydration and droughts are common in many Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

To stay alive, people, animals and the land need lots of water, but accessing that water in the West Bank is a lot harder than simply turning on the faucet. Like many other villagers in Khalet El Mai, Hajja Sabha and Ismail Barawee relied on rainwater and tankered water to survive. With no network, running water did not reach their homes.

Life Without a Water Network for a Palestinian Farmer

Hajja Sabha fell asleep every night worrying about tomorrow’s weather. Would it bring much-needed rain?

Uncertainty and water scarcity were a part of daily life for the villagers of Khalet El Mai. Under a scorching sun, on so many occasions, Hajja Sabha walked long distances to fetch water. Though she was thirsty by the journey’s end, the 58-year-old woman would often only take a sip and save the rest for her family, crops, and animals.

“We earn our money from livestock and farming. I could see my livestock getting thirsty and it would pain me. At times I would not drink the water so I could save it for them,” Hajja Sabha says.

Water in the West Bank makes Hajja smile

Hajja Sabhaglows with delight now that she can provide enough water for her family and farm.

When it rained, several families had a system for collecting rainwater from rooftop rain gutters and in wells, but this did not provide enough water for the community’s needs year round.  When the rainwater inevitably ran out, most people would pay about $800 during the summer for more water.

Then, something wonderful happened for Hajja and her neighbors: ANERA’s Palestinian Community Infrastructure Development (PCID) program stepped in to build water infrastructure for Khalet El Mai and four nearby villages. This means clean, running water is finally reaching people at their homes.

“It’s my job to ensure that my family, crops and livestock are fed and that there is sufficient water for them to use,” Hajja Sabha explains. “With the extra money I save now, I will take care of my land and livestock,” adds the farmer, mother and grandmother.

What was once a dry, broken-up earth is now a muddy terrain, irrigated with water from the new water network. Seeing the land brings a smile to this Palestinian woman’s face. “Water is the best gift anyone can receive; I thank God,” she says happily.

Ismail’s Children No Longer Have to Hunt for Water in the West Bank

With only one leg, it was already hard for Ismail Birawee to provide for his large family. Eighteen years ago, the 60-year-old father lost his leg in a tragic accident. “A man only has his work. Without it, how can he be expected to provide for his family?” the Khalet El Mai villager asks. “My older boys had to leave school to find jobs so they can provide for the family.”

Ismail of Khallet El Mai

60-year-old Ismail lost a leg in a tragic accident, and has trouble providing water for his family.

Like the other 4,300 residents of the village, Ismail was affected by the scarcity of water in the West Bank. His younger children spent several hours “water hunting,” as he called it. “They could have invested that time doing more productive activities, like studying or just doing the things kids do,” he adds with regret. “Each time they went out water hunting, I felt this heavy guilt.”

Together with his extended family, 22 people live in Ismail’s household.  Many times, the water that was fetched was contaminated. “My younger children and my grandchildren kept getting sick,” Ismail said. “We think it was from the tankered water because we heard from others with similar problems.”

When all seemed lost, ANERA installed a water network  just in the nick of time for Ismail Birawee and Hajja Sabha. “I can now save more than $100 a month with this new network,” Birawee says. He is happy he can save money towards his children’s education and plant the garden he always wished for. “Water is life,” Birawee says with a smile.

water in the west bank ismail and wife

Now Ismail and his wife can save the money they used to spend on water for their children’s education.

What is PCID?

The Palestinian Community Infrastructure Development (PCID) Program, funded by USAID and implemented by ANERA, quickly responded to the water infrastructure needs in Khalet El Mai and 4 other nearby villages. Within weeks of installing 11,000 meters of pipes, water was reaching homes and there was enough water for the people, livestock and land combined. The residents of Khalet El Mai no longer have to worry about whether tomorrow’s sunrise will bring rainwater. Visit the PCID website>>

See more photos from Khalet El Mai:

water west bank ismail with family
Water in the West Bank boy with sheep
Water in the West Bank Hajja Farming
water in the west bank khallet el mai kids in the window
Water West Bank Hajja with Sheep
water network west bank, palestine

Ismail and his wife are picture here with their grandchildren. They are all happy to have the new water network.

Hajja's grandson knows that they now will have enough water to keep their goats healthy.

With the new water network built by PCID, the land in Khalet El Mai is much greener!

Hajja's grandchildren peek through the window of their home in Khalet El Mai.

Hajja provides for her family by farming the land and raising livestock, which is only possible with an adequate water supply.

A water tank helps farmers like Hajja irrigate the land.

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Now in its fifth year, the Syrian crisis continues to devastate the lives of millions of families. In Lebanon, nearly 1.3 million refugees are crowded into the poorest areas of the country. For refugee youth, the situation is especially difficult.

Many refugee teens in Lebanon, like 16-year-old Sami from Syria, find themselves unable to attend school in Lebanon because they have to work long hours to help provide for their families or can’t afford tuition.

Drawing on years of experience with non-formal education for refugee youth and Palestinian teens, ANERA kicked off its Quick Impact Skills Development project with UNICEF in November 2014, aimed at providing adolescent refugees with the transferable skills they need to become empowered, productive members of society.

Meet Sami, a 16-year-old Refugee Returning to Education in Lebanon