2020 was tumultuous for almost everyone. Anera put many development projects on hold temporarily to shift priorities towards providing life saving and urgent humanitarian aid.
In Lebanon, the pandemic forced our education team to pause program plans and make a U-turn, retailoring all activities to match the new realities and people’s needs on the ground. Psychosocial support as well as art and life skills could no longer be active components in our educational program. The focus instead switched to work-based education like vocational cash-for-work courses, which has remained our mode of operation for the duration of the pandemic. These classes address urgent community needs like food security (through cooking courses) and COVID-19 (through mask production sewing courses).
Since the beginning of the pandemic and the deterioration of the economic situation, there has been an increase in gender-based violence and forced child marriages in Lebanon. To tackle these new realities, Anera has added a new gender-based violence and protection component to our youth empowerment program, with courses that are strictly for vulnerable women.
To ensure inclusiveness, we worked carefully to create an effective referral system in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Abaad (a women’s rights non-profit), and UNICEF. Our education team in Lebanon established partnerships with local non-profits and safe spaces for women. They organized specialized courses in cooking, food preservation and canning, as well as basic literacy and math. One of these courses is in Bint Jbeil, a town in the south of Lebanon.
Sixteen-year-old Maram fled the war in Syria. “I got married four months ago,” she says, “and I left school a long time ago. One of my relatives told me about this course. Now I can make mouneh from apples, grape leaves and corn — and I know how to freeze vegetables to last more than a year! I am also making some money, which is helpful. I love the fact that we are making these products for poor people who can’t afford to buy food right now.”
Fayrouz Nimr Hijazi is a member of the Coop Society for Agricultural Industrialization (or Zouwada, their commercial name), Anera’s newest partner in south Lebanon. She says preserved foods are now in high demand. People want to purchase goods that can last for a long time in their fridge. This creates an opportunity for young women like these students to eventually generate enough money to launch their own small businesses.
“We have many clients in Lebanon, but we also ship products abroad. We get many orders from expats,” Hijazi says. “We thank Anera for selecting us as a local partner and supporting the creation of this course. It helps both the young ladies and the families receiving the produce.”
Zaza, 14, is from the Syrian city of Daraa. She says, “There are seven of us in my family. My father can’t work because of his health. Things are tough. I dropped out of school because we couldn’t afford it anymore and I started looking for work. A neighbor told me about this course. I decided to enroll in order to learn how to make Mouneh. Maybe one day I’ll open my own store back in Syria.”
Dalal Moussa, our field coordinator in the south, is thrilled to see these young women thriving in an environment removed from any threat of violence. Moussa says, “Through this course, we are able to create a safe environment and strengthen relationships between women from different nationalities and religions. The course has boosted the confidence of the students, especially those coming from Syria who witnessed horrific and traumatic things during the war.”
Anera’s field coordinators are collecting all the mouneh products and distributing them to marginalized families impacted by the economic collapse.