It is winter, and refugees in the Middle East face challenges ranging from access to heat, water, food, and shelter, to securing health and social services that enable them to survive. At this time of year, dozens of appeals for help come into my mail and email boxes from NGOs and others committed to sustaining some measure of dignity for the refugees and their host communities through providing essential services to support them and give their lives a sense of renewal and relief.
I have been fortunate to know several of these organizations first-hand through their work in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan, and efforts elsewhere in Morocco, Yemen, and Tunisia. I am both heart-broken and heartened by their stories and their programs, and want to highlight the efforts of one such organization.
Anera (American Near East Refugee Aid) marked its 50th anniversary this year. It was started in 1968 to bring relief to displaced and impoverished Palestinians after the 1967 war. It has programs in Gaza and the West Bank of Palestine, and once worked in Jordan where it hopes to return in the future. In Lebanon, it is working to support Palestinian and Syrian refugees and their host communities through projects that address immediate and longer-term needs such as health services, economic development, jobs and skills training, community infrastructure, and education.
To maximize its impact, Anera works with other NGOs to address emergency relief and “maintainable water, health, education, and economic development projects.” In order to combat the real threat of a “lost generation” of Syrian children, Anera has launched non-formal education courses in English, math, and Arabic, and also teams with others to offer health services, vocational training, and hygiene and mental health services. It provides similar efforts to Lebanese host communities to sustain their capacity to withstand challenges to their stability.
Anera’s website features profiles of various Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese youth who have benefited from its programs including young women and men who have trained to become electricians to serve their communities. That particular program was started by UNICEF and funded by the Netherlands, Germany, and UK Aid. In Lebanon, this partnership supports “a nation-wide vocational training program, as a means to give marginalized Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian youth opportunities at employment. The vocational courses which Anera's on-ground partners and trainers provide are all-inclusive and ensure that the outreach includes vulnerable youth of all genders, religions, and social backgrounds.”
According to Anera, “Over 4,000 youths have enrolled in Anera’s job skills courses in Lebanon, and about half have been provided with internships and apprenticeships. A variety of vocational courses are being offered as part of the project, which aims to develop the skills of out-of-school youth and allow them to secure livelihoods. By September 2017, a total of 4,144 youth took part in these courses.”
The latest available data shows that in 2018, “Anera spent 94% of its revenue (some $68.9 million) on direct programming, providing urgent relief and life-improving development to refugee communities and other vulnerable populations across Palestine and Lebanon.”
Anera Lebanon’s country director, Mrs. Samar Al-Yassir, can be found at locations throughout the country ensuring that its programs reach young people regardless of nationality and background, essential to maintaining credibility and impact in multi-confessional Lebanon. One program, “Quick Impact Skills Development for Adolescents and Youth Affected by the Syrian Crisis,” enables Lebanese and non-Lebanese to acquire technical, vocational, and skills-building training that is life-changing – or as Anera calls it, “Where Hope Finds a Way.” Local implementing partners include the Rene Moawad Foundation, Leb Relief, Mouvement Social, and the AVSI Foundation.
Another long-term program in Lebanon is a solid waste management initiative in the villages of Majdal Anjar, Mansourah, and Temnine Faouqa, focusing on households, informal settlements, facilities, farms, and slaughterhouses. “The It Starts with You initiative is part of Anera’s Community Based Solid Waste Management project, which aims to improve sanitation and hygiene in the villages. The program is upgrading the solid waste management systems used by each municipality.”
After his recent trip to the region, Sean Campbell, Anera’s president, noted that “In response to the political situation and fluid status of refugees, Anera continues programming, mostly with UN support, working to provide skills to Syrian refugees that will be valuable and valued whether they stay in Lebanon, go home or move to a third country. We are also working increasingly with vulnerable Lebanese host communities. More challenging is our work with Palestinians, as donor cuts to UN agencies mean that those agencies are cutting their funding to implementation partners, including Anera.”
As he traveled to various projects, his stories of renewal, hope, and determination characterize Anera’s programs. Its work on “youth literacy and math and 14 vocational education courses in nine subject areas,” for example, has clearly changed the lives of the participants. His sense of commitment, shared by Anera’s staff, volunteers, and partners, marks its reputation as a credible, effective, and worthy partner for the people of the region who are in need of concrete opportunities for a better life.