Once again, violence disrupted life in Ein El Hilweh camp in southern Lebanon.
On August 24th, armed clashes erupted between rival armed groups in the Palestinian refugee camp after the assassination of a political leader. The fighting quickly spread and forced camp residents to flee their houses to safety outside the camp.
Ouyoun Shabayta, Anera’s field coordinator in Ein El Hilweh lives in the camp. She says the sound of gunfire and rockets could be heard even outside Ein El Hilweh, adding, “I saw people running outside the camp with their clothes in plastic bags, holding their toddlers on their shoulders.”
Thousands of people sought refuge in nearby Saida, in the municipal building and neighboring mosques. “We are used to tensions in the camp, but this time the violence escalated fast and even people who never thought of going outside the camp ended up leaving,” says Ouyoun. “Only elderly people stayed and some young men who form civil committees to protect their neighborhoods from thugs.”
I saw people running outside the camp with their clothes in plastic bags, holding their toddlers on their shoulders.
Providing Relief for Displaced Families
The clashes went on for seven days, burning down parts of the camp, forcing educational facilities, community centers and many hospitals to close their doors. Several people died, hundreds were wounded and thousands displaced. But, Ouyoun decided to reopen Anera’s office in the camp on the second day of the fighting to provide humanitarian relief. With help from some brave volunteers, Anera distributed 650 hygiene kits donated by Lutheran World Relief to a mosque hosting displaced families outside the camp.
“In time of conflict, you cannot be quiet, you need to do something,” Ouyoun explains. “You need to serve your community.” When she and the volunteers got to the mosque, she continues, people started running toward them. “We took a step back and organized ourselves and then started an orderly distribution of the hygiene kits.”
In times of conflict, you cannot be quiet, you need to do something. You need to serve your community.
Several non-profits were involved in the relief drive, distributing meals and food parcels. But Ouyoun says Anera’s hygiene kits stood out. “People really appreciated the kits because they had fled the camp with nothing but some clothes. So, the supply of towels, soap, nail clippers, hair and tooth brushes and toothpaste served them well during their stay in the mosque.”
Anera Re-opens Classes in Ein El Hilweh
After the clashes ended a week later, people gradually started returning home, trying to regain some normalcy in their lives. Community centers reopened their doors and Anera resumed its regular program work.
Throughout the past year, Anera has organized transferable skills courses and skills-based training for youth, aged between 14 and 18. The program, Quick Impact Skills Development for Adolescents Affected by the Syrian Refugee Crisis, is implemented in coordination with UNICEF, and generously funded by the German government.
“When we resumed our work in the camp, we went to each student’s house to tell their parents the program had started up again,” Says Ouyoun. “In just a few days our classes were full of students. No drop-outs and no absenteeism,” Ouyoun says with pride. “It’s the best vote of confidence for us and a signal that our program is working.”