Basmeh & Zeitooneh – A Syrian approach to serve the Syrian refugees in Lebanon

A Syrian approach to serve the Syrian refugees in Lebanon

“My name is Reem Alhaswani. I am 28 years old. I come from a small town near Damascus. I studied architecture in the University of Damascus.

In 2011 I was residing in Damascus, restoring historic buildings in the ancient city of Damascus when a lot of things took place that transformed my life forever. Back then we had the dream of ending injustice in our country in order to elevate our society to nobler heights. Sadly, within a period of two years, the law of the jungle – Might is Right – became the daily reality on the ground. I had to flee Syria by the end of 2012, thus becoming a Syrian refugee in Lebanon.

I was totally desperate when I first arrived in Lebanon. There was no hope in sight, no light at the end of this horrible tunnel. I happened to meet four other young Syrian and Palestinian activists – Fadi, George, Youssef and Yasmeen. We thought, together we could do something.

We decided to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. We had the necessary connections and tools to change the circumstances of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We gave birth to “Basmeh and Zeitooneh” – a very small group of dedicated young people, but with tons of enthusiasm and courage.

My story is a very simple one. Our contribution is small in comparison to the daily, continuous suffering of millions of Syrians within our own country and outside it.

About the project:

As I said earlier, we were a very small group, to start with. We could only distribute some food and provide simple medical assistance through some private donations from Syrian and Lebanese families.

Then a young Syrian doctor living in the UK volunteered with us during his holidays. He went from house to house in the camp at Shatilla. In the course of these trips we understood the miserable living conditions of the people in this camp. They were in unhealthy shelters. They had to pay around US $ 300 for a humid room with no windows.

The children were out of school for over a year and the women were too afraid to move around in this new environment. The situation of women was the worst. They were the direct victims of the war. A large percentage of these families had lost their bread winner. The women who were left behind to fend for themselves and their children were not educated and had no skills to earn enough to support their families, which, in many cases, were large. We needed to help them find a source of income.

We came to know a trader who dealt in handmade products. We rented a small place, bought simple materials and started looking for women willing to learn new skills. It took us a month to convince 10 women to participate in the workshop. Now, after two years, we have 130 women in the workshop – learning embroider y and producing very beautiful stuff. And they are learning about their rights and their capabilities. They learn how to deal with domestic violence and how to raise their kids in a healthy way.

Basmeh and Zeitooneh seek to create an opportunity for refugees to move beyond being victims of conflict, highly dependent on assistance – to go on to become empowered individuals who are able to thrive even in this difficult time. Basmeh and Zeitooneh has established community centers that are easily accessible to refugees. There they receive relief services, medical assistance, vocational training, schooling, peace education for their children, psychosocial support for women, and employment.

Our vision is: a constructive society that lives with dignity

We cannot end this war. That is not in our hands. What we can do is to use this tragic situation to arm ourselves with education, experiences and free thinking in order to rebuild our country in the future.

At this moment we have just over 130 women in our workshop, while there are thousands of women out there who are in need of similar opportunities. Due to the lack of finances we aim at reaching self-sustainability. We want to become a self-supporting project that will help more women to stand on their own feet.

This prize comes as a great encouragement for those efforts. In the coming months we will be developing our products in order to enter bigger markets, as it is the only way to become self-sustainable.

 

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