Equipping Vulnerable Youth with Essential Life Skills in Lebanon
By Christine Zahm, Anera Lebanon Youth Program Manager
Many kids in Lebanon go to public schools that don’t teach them the skills they need to get ahead in life. Many others aren’t in school at all. The children come from vulnerable backgrounds. Sometimes their parents lack important life skills too.
Families who strive to help their children succeed often emphasize their academic studies. But soft skills get neglected. When these youth graduate and enter the job market, they need to be able to market themselves, look for work and negotiate their salaries. They lack these basic life skills.
Beyond finding work, there are many essential skills useful in all areas of life. Skills such as empathy, communication, and cooperation are very important, particularly in a society with many divisions between religious communities and between citizens and refugees, and amidst great economic hardship. And there are all sorts of false messages that youth are exposed to through Whatsapp and other sources. They need critical thinking skills to discern what is credible and what isn’t.
Anera’s youth skills program, funded by UNICEF, involves a mix of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian youth. We empower youth with tools that will help them in all areas of life, including conflict resolution, team building, cooperation, and creativity.
In our curriculum, we try to give specific examples related to the present reality and the economic crisis. For instance, in a time where there is a lot of talk of the “negative economic effects” of hosting refugees, how can one have an open discussion with someone being judgemental and saying hateful things. Or, with so many people losing their jobs or getting paid half salaries, how can we be empathetic and find creative ways to support each other as a community.
Amazing Life Skills Trainers in Lebanon
Anera has recruited 25 young people to become trainers in our program. They just completed a four-day training.
I’m very proud of the trainers. We hand-picked them, choosing the best and most passionate. Many traveled from all over the country — from places like Bekaa and Akkar, and from refugee camps like Ein El Hilweh and Nahr El Bared — for the training in Beirut. Often we have to entice people with incentives (cover their transportation cost, pay them a stipend) to come to a training. But these youth needed no enticements. They’re coming because they really want to learn. These trainers are the basis for everything in the program that follows this year.
One of the trainers is a little shy but she told her story at the first session and got emotional. She studied in a technical field but didn’t find herself in that field. She realized she really wanted to do something different. So she applied to be a trainer. Her courage really impressed me. She told us,
“I want to make a change in my life, even though I’m not sure how. I suddenly had this burst of courage and I’m here now [at the training]. I don’t know if I’m going to be a good trainer but I’ll be helping myself and I’ll be helping others.”
Anera’s Life Skills Program Plan
Starting in early March, Anera’s 25 trainers will be training 1,200 youth in total. Every participant will have 20 hours of life skills sessions. Some of the youth are in school and some aren’t. In July of 2020 we will select 300 of the youth to work on community initiatives that are based on needs in their communities as well as their own interests.
These 300 youth will also teach life skills to children, aged 6-12 years old, through cartoons and meeting with them weekly. Each of the 300 young people will lead a cinema club to build relationships with 20 children. As a group they will watch cartoons designed to convey important life skills messages and follow it with discussion. They will also host monthly events with the children, their parents and communities.
We expect 6,000 children to be part of the program this year.
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