When the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon were set up 60 years ago, the United Nations built schools for the refugees.
Today, over-crowded classes, a lack of motivating teachers and restrictions for Palestinians to work in most professions in Lebanon have contributed to a high number of dropouts among Palestinian teenagers.
ANERA’s vocational education programs aim at equipping youth with job skills to join the workforce and give them an opportunity to continue university studies if they have the aptitude and initiative. The program, known as Enhancing Non-Formal Education or ENFE, has been funded by Reach out to Asia since 2010.
ANERA this year will give 102 Palestinian youth vocational training opportunities in the fields of urban agriculture, nursing, plumbing, aluminum and glass and catering. Courses in accounting and hairdressing will be launched soon.
Education program manager Nawal el Kurdi explains the objective of the program in Nahr El Bared camp is to channel students who drop out of the traditional program into a professional training program. “Our new curriculum resembles a traditional school program. While students major in disciplines such as catering, plumbing or aluminum, they also have classes in English, computer skills, math and life skills.” Students also learn how to write their curriculum vitae, or how to look for a job.
Plumbing students Hassan Chahine and Ibrahim Najad, both 16, have similar stories: They found it hard to keep up with the regular UNRWA school program and little encouragement to try harder. Poverty also weighed heavily on their families and they ended quitting school to find work.
Their life changed when Ibrahim was handed a flyer on the street and Hassan followed his boss’s advice to join the plumbing training. “Nowadays, when I make a mistake, no one laughs at me,” says Hassan, ‘my teacher just explains it again.” When asked whether the program is difficult, Hassan admits the English and math classes are not easy, but he knows a plumber needs such skills. He smiles: “What if my client doesn’t speak Arabic?”
A six-month course at the catering training kitchen at the Women’s Program Association brings together 25 students between 16 and 32 years old. Sabrina Ali Nheila, a 32-years old mother of three, offers a piece of freshly-decorated chocolate cake: “My friends have started to ask me for advice on baking. I’ve become an expert in my community,” Sabrina boasts.
Her achievement did not come easily. She says every day she has to overcome her husband’s unwillingness to let her go to the training. “But at the moment, nothing is more important to me.” Sabrina has a vision for the future. “I want to open my own bakery.”
A vision of the future seems to be the motto that unites students in the vocational program, no matter where they have come from. Ahmad Nour fled Syria with his family in November 2012. “We had to leave Syria so I quit my first year of university. Here in Lebanon, I don’t want to lose more time or to give up on higher education. That would mean that I’ve really lost the war.”