Burj El Barajneh is a Palestinian refugee camp located in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The camp was established in 1948 after the “Nakba,” when Palestinians were forced to flee their homes and villages. The camp was built on one square kilometer (0.38 square miles) of land to accommodate 10,000 refugees. Today, Bur El Burajneh is home to some 31,000 refugees, including thousands who have recently fled fighting in Syria.

Residents of this overcrowded camp face many challenges due to the lack of proper infrastructure, limited job opportunities, and under-funded health facilities and educational institutions.

ANERA first extended its services to Burj El Barajneh in 2006 to provide relief following the 2006 Lebanon War that heavily destroyed the southern suburb of Beirut and the camp. While substantial relief efforts continue today, especially with the presence of some 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, ANERA’s programs also advance long-term, sustainable development in the areas of health, education and economic development.

Burj El Barajneh refugee camp map

Early Childhood Education in Burj El Barajneh

Typical street in Burj El Barajneh

This is a typical “street” in Burj El Barajneh, with unsafe electrical wires exposed.

Early childhood development is critical to a child’s future success and ANERA supports Burj El Burajneh’s preschools in in a variety of ways. To promote reading, ANERA supplies many schools and community centers with storybooks for 3-to-5-year-olds and organizes sessions, in cooperation with organizations like at the Women’s Program Center, to teach parents how to use books as a tool to encourage learning in their families.

In partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, ANERA has also rehabilitated a preschool in the camp. The renovations have created a healthy and safe environment for children to learn and socialize in, restoring a relative sense of normalcy in their lives in otherwise very abnormal and difficult circumstances.

“When we first opened the newly rehabbed 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.”

Burj El Barajneh early childhood development

Students at the ANERA-renovated preschool in Burj El Barajneh interact with their teacher while playing with the news toys ANERA provided.

Health and Awareness for Burj El Barajneh Camp

Community and family health is a key pillar in ANERA’s work. ANERA public health work in the camp started in 2006. Working with local organizations and health clinics, ANERA’s campaigns raised awareness about diarrhea treatment, smoking cessation and breastfeeding. The long-term goal was to put health on the agenda of local groups working in poor and marginalized communities and to use simple, smart and cost-effective practices that can be adopted to save on cost and foster self-reliance. The program encouraged community organizations to continue and expand beyond the campaign, using materials and guidelines provided by ANERA.

Public health educators in Burj El Barajenh

Public health educators use posters to describe the rational use of medicines in dealing with illness

ANERA’s health promotion activities currently focus on the rational use of medicines as well as healthy eating, hygiene, and preventing parasitic infections. These activities are often combined with ANERA’s in-kind deliveries of hygiene, baby, and women’s dignity kits. Adolescents are especially vulnerable and ANERA has developed specific curricula for youth that address a range of topics, from cyber safety and hygiene to sanitation and reproductive health.

Medical Relief and In-kind Deliveries

Since 2006, ANERA has supplied valuable medicines, such as insulin and injectable antibiotics, and medical supplies to Burj el Burajneh’s clinics and hospitals. Other in-kind efforts include the distribution of hygiene, winter, and baby kits, quilts, and clothing vouchers. Working through a network of local partners and clinics, this program responds all year long to people’s needs, delivering millions of dollars’ worth of relief items.

In June 2015, ANERA distributed Ramadan food packages to 900 Palestinian refugee families from Syria now residing in Burj el Burajneh. Each package contained a variety of essentials such as rice, lentils, beans, dates, sugar, tea, milk, and traditional jallab juice. There was enough to feed a family for up to a month, critical for families struggling to pay the most basic of services. Dima Zayat, ANERA’s in-kind health manager, said the food packages were a welcome relief for refugees who have suffered so much. “We are glad we were able to distribute these big parcels on time. Ramadan is supposed to be a time of joy and sharing and now you can see how happy the young children are to help their parents carry the gift boxes back home.”

A Burj El Barajneh mother collects her family's Ramadan food package.

A Burj El Barajneh mother collects her family’s Ramadan food package.

“When people lack access to safe water, they are most vulnerable to diseases like diarrhea, scabies and even lice,” says Lana Agha, ANERA Health Officer in Gaza. Untreated infections, she explains, may also lead to death, especially in the poorest and most marginalized Palestinian communities and among those with weaker immune systems like newborns and children under the age of five.

With funds from Islamic Relief USA and community of committed donors, ANERA has been able to connect residents of the Zarqa area in Gaza City to a reliable source of clean water. But access is not enough. ANERA also has implemented valuable health awareness sessions to provide lessons on personal hygiene and other health tips. Lana says, “Simple health practices can save families a lot of misery.”

ANERA is implementing 8 water and sanitation projects across Gaza that provide access to safe water, hygiene kits, and awareness sessions.

Based on questionnaires circulated before the start of the health sessions, Lana was able to focus her discussions to address the most acute health needs. One topic was water storage: “Some families eat unwashed vegetables and never cleaned their water storage tanks.” Another practice that caught her attention was hand-washing. Most of the women washed their hands often, but didn’t think about washing their hands before changing diapers or eating their meals. “And, many impoverished families can’t afford basic items like soap and detergent, ” Lana adds.

Gaza health officer teaches parents how to protect children from parasites.

ANERA health officer, Lana, teaches Gaza mothers how to protect their children from parasites

Awareness Classes Lead to Treatment for 3-Year-Old Rahaf

Once the women in the health sessions relaxed a bit, they started sharing their health concerns, including the spread of parasites and lice. “When I talked about how parasites are transmitted from one body to another and how they can live in mud contaminated by animal feces, mothers in the class were anxious to learn what they could do to protect their children,” said Lana.

Sumaya Moqat says she was grateful for the classes. “When I learned that some parasite infections could affect my children’s learning abilities, I really got worried,” she said. “I was anxious because all the symptoms we discussed, like diarrhea and lack of appetite, were applicable to my 3-year-old child, Rahaf,” she said.

Safe water is not the only need. Parents also need health education and hygiene items.

Rahaf is tested for parasites at the clinic after her mother recognized her symptoms in ANERA’s hygiene awareness session.

Soon after the class, Sumaya rushed her three-year-old to a nearby clinic for parasite testing and treatment. Sure enough, Rahaf had a parasitic infection. After comprehensive treatment, she’s making a full recovery. To prevent further infection, Sumaya follows the instruction and advice she learned in the health session.

The impact of the Gaza water project, from water connections and classes to the distribution of hygiene kits, is evident almost immediately. “When safe water is available, we give our children frequent baths, we wash our hands more often and the vegetables too,” explains Sumaya.

ANERA’s health officer says the goal of the awareness program is to prevent children from falling ill in the first place. “Prevention is better than treatment.”

With the combination of safe water, health awareness, and proper hygiene supplies, Sumaya is equipped to protect her children against parasites.

With the combination of safe water, health awareness, and proper hygiene supplies, Sumaya is equipped to protect her children against parasites.

This year, the World Health Organization has named diabetes as the primary health concern for World Health Day on April 7th, 2016. Diabetes is a chronic non-communicable disease impacting millions of people, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. Diabetes and other chronic illnesses are prevalent in the places where ANERA works. ANERA programs address education and treatment of diabetes in refugee camps and poor communities in Palestine and Lebanon. 

In Lebanon, the Palestinian population is disproportionately affected by chronic illness. In fact, Palestinians are nearly twice as likely to have a chronic illness than the Lebanese population. Among the Palestinian refugee population world wide, UNRWA has determined that the prevalence of diabetes is “dangerously high.”

ANERA’s expert staff works with local organizations and communities to educate people about risk factors and provide treatment for those who need it. Learn more about how our health program works to #beatdiabetes in the videos below.

Health is a Right: Cities Changing Diabetes

ANERA’s health and in-kind manager, Dima Zayat, talks about the challenges to public health in Lebanon. She discusses the social, economic and environmental determinants that lead to chronic illness like diabetes in this video produced by Cities Changing Diabetes.

Combating Diabetes in Refugee Camps in Lebanon

Donations to ANERA’s medical relief program help deliver insulin and other vital medicines to Palestinian refugee camps and under-served areas in Lebanon. Meet one of the people whose life depends on a charitable clinic supported by medicine from ANERA.

 

When you have access to proper care, it’s easy to take dental health for granted. For many refugees in Lebanon camps and tent settlements, toothaches and infections have become a part of their new life. The cost of treatment is too high and clinics and hospitals are not accessible.

Aminah lives in a makeshift settlement in Miniara, in the north of Lebanon. She came to the country a year ago with her parents and her nine siblings to escape the Syrian war. Life is hard and reliable health care is hard to find. “Toothaches really hurt and sometimes I can’t sleep at night because of the pain,” says Aminah.

Aminah’s discomfort is an important immediate concern. But unaddressed dental problems early in life can also lead to the need for expensive and invasive treatments down the road. Moreover, poor oral health can affect the rest of the body, sometimes for years to come. Recent studies link gum infections and inflammation to diabetes and heart disease, among other chronic illnesses.

Syrian refugee Aminah gets dental health treatment in Lebanon camp.

This is 11-year-old Aminah (right). She says, “It is so great to be able to see a dentist!”

Confronting Challenges to Syrian Refugee Dental Health

In February, ANERA partnered with The Ajram Family Foundation to launch an innovative Syrian refugee dental health project that is reaching 750 children and their families in a settlement in the Akkar district. The project brings dentists to the camps for screenings and sends patients in need of treatment to a reputable clinic for free care. ANERA is simultaneously conducting a health education campaign that focuses on good oral hygiene practices, cavity prevention and early intervention.

Tent camp in Akkar where ANERA is implementing Syrian refugee dental health project.

This is the tent camp that Aminah and many others now call home. Lack of clean running water and the distance to health facilities make it hard for Syrian refugees to maintain their health.

One participating dentist, Abd el Rahman Mohammad, says most of the problems result from a lack of oral hygiene. Some people, he adds, even have to have their teeth taken out. “Children in this camp do not have access to clean drinking water and we know unclean water can cause cavities.”

Recent surveys in the area report that Syrian refugee children are four times less likely to seek dental services than their Lebanese host community.

ANERA Health Program Manager Dima Zayat says they simply can’t afford it. “Proper oral hygiene practices and a balanced diet are essential to maintaining healthy teeth but extreme poverty and lack of access to dental services multiply the risks of serious oral health issues.”

Through proper screening, treatment and awareness, and help with transportation , we can help Syrian refugees tackle this important, and preventable, health problem. It is one less worry in a long list.

Syrian refugee boys smiling

Happy, healthy smiles are what we want to see. Thanks to our donors for making our work possible!

The wonderful news that the Varkey Foundation’s prize for best teacher has been awarded to Palestinian elementary teacher Hanan Al-Hroub is an important reminder of just how critical education is for children facing so many challenges so early in their lives.

Childhood is meant to be a joyous experience, a time for fun and laughter. But a child’s reality is often robbed of those pleasures growing up in the over-crowded Askar refugee camp in Nablus, flooded streets of Beit Awwa in Hebron, or the rubble of destroyed homes in Gaza.

And yet, there is a place where young Palestinian children can leave that harsh world and find the comforting space to play and learn. For many, the classroom is an escape from the misery of their daily struggles and a chance to be just a child again.

For a brief time, they can forget the chronically sick parent, abusive family, over-burdened mother, murdered brother or jobless father. Sitting on the schools’ soft carpet, they forget about their thin mattress on the cold cement floor in a house or shelter in sore need of repair.

Palestine education: preschool teachers in Gaza

ANERA has trained scores of Palestinian preschool teachers, who are dedicated to giving children the opportunity to succeed.

Improving Palestine Education through Early Childhood Development

Under ANERA’s ambitious early childhood development program, or ECD for short, preschools have been renovated and equipped with colorful learning tools and toys in a safe and brightly colored environment that encourages creativity.

The program has trained scores of preschool teachers who are dedicated to broadening and inspiring young minds. The smiling welcome of a talented and committed teacher is like a warm embrace for children who must endure a cold, hard life.

Reading at El Shatee Preschool in Gaza, now a regular part of their education routine

Encouraging the love of reading and storytelling is one key component to ANERA’s early childhood development work.

Under the guidance of a skilled and caring teacher, Palestinian youngsters get the chance to laugh and play, grow and develop in a safe and nurturing environment. Since its founding in 1968, ANERA has put education as a top priority in building a solid foundation for the future of Palestinian society.

Building, expanding, furnishing and renovating schools, installing playgrounds, providing accessible, quality equipment, computers, games, books and educational materials are key elements of ANERA’s ECD program. Thanks to a generous donor community, ANERA has been able to train preschool teachers, guide parents, design and deliver comprehensive vocational training courses for youth, provide scholarships, and run summer camps, transforming the lives of young Palestinians in the Middle East.

The motivation is simple: We believe that giving children the skills and capacity for critical thinking and creativity, we can help prepare them to become leaders of their community and masters of their own futures.

Amjad preschool before and after

Students of Al Amjad preschool sit on the front steps of the new school ANERA built for them in 2015. Their head teacher, Boshra Hamad, was thrilled to be able to re-open the school for these kids.