Supporting Marginalized Children through Positive Engagement in Lebanon

 Education and Empowerment, Featured Stories from the Field, Lebanon  Comments Off on Supporting Marginalized Children through Positive Engagement in Lebanon
Nov 172011

For decades HCI has been promoting interaction and the sharing of ideas and resources among children in marginalized communities and their peers from different areas as a “discrete” tool that eventually leads to greater understanding of the other, which addresses the bigger headlines of coexistence, tolerance, pluralism and nonviolence.

Using its years of cumulative experience in this field, including its recent similar work in El-Nabaa area north of Beirut and in Amman and Zarqa in Jordan working with Iraqi refugees and their Jordanian hosts, HCI is now working with the children of the Shatila refugee camp and its surrounding areas to address these same issues through the implementation of a series of activities that stimulate them to become more positively engaged with their surroundings, build bridges among the different factions of the camps’ communities and communities from outside the camp and improve their psychosocial wellbeing.

The inhabitants of the Shatila refugee camp are among Lebanon’s most marginalized communities, they face a number of problems ranging from lack of social and civil rights to no access to public and social services, from very limited access to hospitals and schools to lack of safe spaces for children to play in.

HCI’s activities are bringing together children from different backgrounds between the ages of 9 and 14 to participate in a series of tailored activities, such as celebrating relevant internationally recognized days, highlighting special national causes, participating in community gatherings, and learning new information and skills.

The benefits of these activities are manifold; first, they serve as a means of awareness and education, where the children are stimulated to become more positively engaged in their surroundings. Secondly, these activities serve as a form of psychosocial support, giving them a chance to engage in “fun” activities, improving their mental and emotional health. Thirdly, and most importantly, they expose the youth to people of all backgrounds and communities, and encourage them to interact and share. Firsthand contact encourages the youth to see those with different backgrounds as fellow human beings, and not simply as “others.” Numerous studies have shown that increased contact between communities, sharing of resources and knowledge, and working together for one cause can serve to break down divisions, reduce the potential for conflict, and increase social cohesion.

Simultaneously, HCI’s intervention aims at tackling “discreetly” the issue of children at-risk by involving them in the project activities as the main target participants, be it working children, children on the street, street children, victims of abuse, children who live below the poverty line and others. More focus is given on children living in families considered to be “extremely poor”, particularly since children who grow up in families with low incomes are significantly more likely to experience a wide range of problems and poor developmental outcomes than others. Research has shown that there are significant associations between poverty and children’s health, cognitive development, behavior problems, emotional well-being, and problems with school achievement. Studies have shown that 8 percent of the children in Lebanon live on less than $2.40 a day and 9 percent of young people aged between 6 and 19 in the Palestinian camps live on less than $2 a day, while victims of child labor in Lebanon are estimated to be around 7 percent of the children. The aim is to promote at-risk children’s right to care, health, safety and education and to help return to some sense of normalcy to their daily life through interaction, sharing, fun and learning with their peer children.

One of the first activities HCI sponsored was the celebration of world environment day, the diverse group of children started the day by planting trees in the dusty play area of their local community center, in the hope of transforming this barren urban area into a green space full of trees (more trees were later planted in several locations all over the camp.) After much digging and watering, the children were treated to an educational and fun trip far away from their overcrowded environment at a wildlife reserve in the Shouf Mountains to enjoy and learn about nature, while interacting and sharing all the way, from the planting of trees to the hiking in the vast lush green landscape for hours while learning about the importance of protecting the environment. The children went swimming in a natural spring to cool off and were provided with a delicious and nutritious lunch before heading back home.

Another activity the children participated in was a community iftar during the month of Ramadan, Ramadan is traditionally a time when individuals, families and communities make an effort to bond and spend time together. Hundreds of impoverished children from the camp were invited during Ramadan to participate in a community iftar in another related activity, which allowed them to get to know each other better and enjoy a healthy meal and fun activities, strengthening contacts with other members of the community, and hopefully building friendships that will last long after the project has ended.

More activities have commenced, including a photography and image related workshop and exhibition for the children. The theme of the exhibition “interaction and sharing“ and the images captured and exhibited will also serve to stimulate a greater, more tangible understanding of these concepts among the children and the community in general. The implementation of this activity will be participatory from the start, bringing artist photographers, development practitioners, volunteer workers, community leaders, and a very diverse group of children together to design and implement the activity, working together, while learning, interacting and sharing along the way, all themed around interaction and sharing, which addresses the bigger headlines of coexistence, tolerance, pluralism and nonviolence using photography as means to an end.

HCI will also join 50 of the above children to run together as part of the Beirut Marathon this month to promote healthy eating habits and exercise among children which has been a major theme at HCI for the past 3 years as well as the development of healthy eating manuals, school kitchens, health-related publications and series of events as part of the same program.

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Undergraduate Support; HCI Supports University Students in Rural Lebanon

 Education and Empowerment, Featured Stories from the Field, Lebanon  Comments Off on Undergraduate Support; HCI Supports University Students in Rural Lebanon
Nov 142011

HCI Supports University Students in Rural LebanonAbout 5 years ago it came to HCI’s and its partners’ attention that many of the high school graduates of Lebanese villages were dropping out of university despite the fact that many of them had great educational potential and very good grades, because they were unable to afford the tuition fees.

Many of these students eventually become a burden on society relying on charity, others find work that doesn’t provide enough money for a decent life, some wait for a chance to follow their relatives to Canada, the USA or Brazil, and others end up as delinquents.

More and more, their younger relatives that are still in elementary school are starting to drop out at an earlier level and younger age because they know that they will eventually be unable to afford continuing their education. It is perceived as hopeless case for many because they know that they will share the same fate as those before them that struggled to get through school, only to find they are unable to afford university.

HCI, along with its grassroots partner The Bekaa Youth for Development and Free Education NGO, decided it was time to do something about it, so the program started by helping meritorious students unable to afford university fees by providing a very small number of them with a small monthly grant, which contributed to easing the financial burden off their shoulders. The program helped 4 students the first year, the next year we had around 10, and then 11 and then 14 students.

HCI Supports University Students in Rural LebanonAfter a short break due to restructuring, the program was re-launched this year with much improved scale and scope and a better more systemized process, including more adequate funding. We now no longer provide monthly payments; instead we give payments per semester per year directly to the university, complemented with several social and educational activities for the same students and for others. A new screening and selection system was developed and introduced this year to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the project. A new monitoring and evaluation system was also introduced.

This year we have around 36 students, 15 of which are females and 21 males. More than two thirds of them attend Bekaa valley universities; the others go to Beirut universities. All of them with no exception are in a great need of tuition support to be able to continue their education, and around 50% will be obliged to drop out if our help stops. All of our students are undergraduate students; we don’t assist post-graduate students at the moment.

Additionally, the program also implemented various social and educational activities for non-university students such as health and first aid training, and we are preparing to start a one month class to teach people how to use computers.

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HCI Welcomes Lebanon’s New Steps Towards Gender Equality

 Lebanon, Protection and Human Rights  Comments Off on HCI Welcomes Lebanon’s New Steps Towards Gender Equality
May 232011

HCI welcomes and supports the proposed new amendments to the Lebanese laws and congratulates the individuals as well the organizations that worked so hard to make this possible.

HCI is delighted to hear that on Monday 16 May, the Committee on the Administration of Justice has voted to approve the proposed abolishment of the medieval Article 562 of the Penal Code which provides for a lesser sentence in the case of “honor killings”. Article 562 states that if a man catches a female family member in adultery or a suspicious situation with another person and murders her he will benefit from a mitigating excuse.

In the same week, the Budget Committee chose to endorse amendments which would level the field between men and women on the subjects of Tax Inheritance law, Tax Revenue law and the Social Security Taxes as proposed changes to make pay farer during maternity leave. As such, a woman would be allowed LL2.5 million for her husband and LLB500,000 for each of her children of her income untaxed once married as well as enjoy an increase in maternity pay from two-thirds of pay for 10 weeks to 100 percent of full pay.

Furthermore, the Committee on the Administration of Justice has also voted to propose a series of changes to the current laws on adultery that would make them applicable in the same way to both men and women.

These changes, if passed by Parliament represent an important, if overdue, step for Lebanon on its long journey to gender equality as supposedly guaranteed by article 7 of the constitution; “All Lebanese are equal before the Law”.

However, much more still needs to be done. Solely on the subject of Crimes of Honor, there are five articles of the Lebanese Penal Code (art. 193, 253, 487, 488 and 489) which will still provide for a reduction in the sentence of a man perceived to have committed a Crime of Honor. While articles 487, 488 and 489 are currently under review, the sheer number of articles on the issue shows to what extent the concept of Crimes of Honor is embedded in the Lebanese Constitution. Some argue, that although the legislation exists, Lebanese courts have extremely infrequently been allowing “honor” to be used as a defense. However, in a country in which Amnesty International estimated that in 2007, two women were being murdered every month for reasons of honor and in which at least three quarters of women are thought have been victims of domestic abuse at some point in their lives, we believe that it is a priority for any law that could perpetuate this entrenched cycle of violence against women to be quickly abolished. A single article of the Penal Code behind which a man who has committed an act of violence towards a woman can hide is an article too many.

Another prime example of gender inequality in Lebanon is the current Nationality Law, under which women do not possess the basic right to pass on citizenship to their children or husbands. This law, although much debated has seen plans for its change shelved after recent talks by the Parliamentary Committee on Women ground to a halt.

Here at HCI, we hope that in the very near future, Lebanon will honor the commitments made back in 1996 at the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against women and end gender equality within its borders.

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Health and Sanitation in 2010, the HCI Way

 Egypt, Gaza Strip, Health and Sanitation, Lebanon  Comments Off on Health and Sanitation in 2010, the HCI Way
Apr 122011

Health and Sanitation in 2010Health is widely recognized as a cornerstone of human development because it underpins the gamut of human functioning. But health is also essential to human security, since survival and protection from illness are at the core of any concept of people’s wellbeing. There are many in the Middle East with little or no access to healthcare, with women suffering the most from neglect and gender biased traditions. HCI is conscious of this fact and is always working to help improve access to healthcare in communities all around the region.

Our work to build healthy communities, families and individuals is at the heart of HCI’s vision for social change. By collaborating with a range of partners, from village health committees to government agencies, we help build the means to improve maternal, newborn and child health, ensure proper nutrition and combat infectious diseases. HCI’s field teams provide long-term health and nutrition services to communities in need by operating clinics and training health workers.

Health and Sanitation in 2010In 2010, HCI worked to improve the mental and emotional health of distressed children in Gaza and the West Bank by providing them with focused psychosocial support to help them deal with emotional trauma, especially those who had lost family members, children with a new physical disability, children who live in women-headed households, and in families that have lost their livelihoods as part the Psychosocial Support for Children project. Meanwhile in Gaza, as part of the Reviving Lives and Livelihoods project, vulnerable families received health and sanitation related items such as essential medication and essential appliances that contribute to accessibility, mobility and a capacity for independent living, among other things.

HCI provided The Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt with financial support valued at $25,000 in recognition of the hospital’s achievements and vision in 2010; the hospital serves all Egyptians, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or ability to pay. All the necessary treatment and medication are provided free of charge if a family lacks sufficient financial means. Additionally, it provides support to families as they struggle to cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis for their child. Furthermore, the hospital has inaugurated the country’s first school program for hospitalized children, to ensure that they are given the chance to succeed once they have completed their treatment. The hospital is committed to sustainability, and we are certain that no dollar will be wasted. It is money that will be used to help the hospital to expand, bringing its life-saving treatment, education, and message to ever larger numbers.

Health and Sanitation in 2010In April 2010, HCI team members headed to Dubai to participate in the largest humanitarian event in the Middle East; the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference (DIHAD). The theme for 2010 conference was “Global Health Challenges of Tomorrow: Impact and Response”. The team was invited to share HCI’s experiences in Palestine and Lebanon in a special event with the rest of the attendees which included members of several key international agencies such as The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Water is essential for life, good health and economic development — HCI provides water and sanitation programming, giving communities access to clean water, decreasing the incidence of communicable diseases, and improving the quality of life. In 2010 HCI built on the results and findings of the water and sanitation country analytical report for Sudan developed a year earlier, by designing and developing water and sanitation community projects in two settlements South and North of the Capital Khartoum.

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Mar 312011

Sudanese Refugees in LebanonMillions of individuals in the region face discrimination, persecution, and even violence solely because of their ethnicity, beliefs, language or social class. Their path out of poverty is especially challenging. HCI helps them to be heard and recognized so they can exchange oppression for opportunity.

In 2010, HCI built the capacity of a diverse group of underprivileged youth from an ethnically and religiously diverse suburb in Beirut, Lebanon to recognize and address the needs of internally displaced people, refugees and other marginalized members of their community.

HCI’s approach to civil society development emphasizes cross-cultural understanding and empowerment of vulnerable and under-represented members of society and pays equal attention to existing social tensions, and conflicts including but not limited to gender, religion, sect, and race. The rights of women and girls are a critical issue in this sector, and are incorporated in many of HCI’s programs.

Raising Awareness of the Plight of Migrant Women Workers in LebanonHCI also focuses on rights of people with special needs, refugees, displaced people and migrant workers. Our approach aims to build and improve societal relations based on the principles of peaceful coexistence, accountability and participation.

In 2010, HCI joined in raising the awareness of the plight of migrant women workers in Lebanon. Also, HCI continued its work in support of Iraqi refugees in the region, internally displaced people in Sudan and new settlers in Lake Nasser in Egypt.

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