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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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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May 042010
 

Migrant Women WorkersAccording to recent statistics around 200,000 women migrant domestic workers live in Lebanon working as housemaids, and nannies. The domestic nature of their work creates special relationships with their employers. Most migrant workers reside with a family, as the contract they sign requires that their employers to offer a shelter.

The Lebanese government recently approved a unified contract for all migrant workers, the purpose of which is to regulate both the work and living conditions of the workers. The contract was a response to the demands of human rights activists, and their campaigns to stop the slavery like working conditions which many researches and investigations have proven exists for many migrant workers throughout Lebanon.

Women living in Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and many other poor countries, often seek work opportunities abroad, especially in those countries which enjoy a stronger currency with an exchange rate closer to that of the dollar. By doing so, their simple wages in these new countries will be translated into a good sum of money when it is sent back home.

These women are identified by companies that work as mediators between families in search of domestic assistance, and women that are seeking work opportunities. They are matched on the basis of a criteria set out by the family, and knowledge of a second language often plays a key role. The nationality of the workers is closely tied to the wages they are offered; as a result, the poorer the country of origin is, the lower the wage that is likely to be offered.

Migrant women arrive in Lebanon and are immediately sent to their employer’s residence, a space where familial relationships take place, and thus the blurry line between being an employee, and living in the family home, soon becomes less clear. As a result of the familial ties, it becomes difficult for the employer to set working hours for an employee that “lives” with them, and being a domestic worker where the sole responsibility of your work is to provide care leads to the extension of working hours to such an extent that it can often reach 20 hours per day. The employer becomes not the only the head of the household, but all those who live within the household, each with specific demands of “care” which must be provided.

Working in such conditions can lead to a certain amount of tension within the household, and a migrant worker that is responsible for providing care to a number of individuals will be performing her tasks to the point of exhaustion and despair. This stress and tension is often unconsidered by the family, and they regularly end in utter tragedies. According to an unpleasant statistic in a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) more than one migrant domestic worker in Lebanon each week commits suicide. Many of these suicides are carried out by migrant workers throwing themselves off of balconies in a desperate attempt to end their terrible living conditions.

Migrant Women WorkersAn initiative took place from April 24th to the 1st of May 2010 in Lebanon named the 24/7 campaign to shed light on the disturbing living conditions of women migrant workers in Lebanon. The campaign made use of the virtual as much as the physical realm. A tweeting and a blogging campaign took place for six days in order to post information and stories about these migrant workers, raising awareness among Lebanese virtual societies. In addition, a migrant workers march was organized on the 1st of May to recognize and bring attention to the miserable conditions of migrant workers in Lebanon. A day of promoting the different cultures that these migrant bring with them was celebrated as well, and the Lebanese public was invited to taste the food of these diverse cultures.

Human Concern International’s team participated in both the march and the “taste- culture” day. We have promoted the campaign using social media means recognizing the efforts of human rights activists to bring freedom, and end the abuse of migrant women workers in Lebanon. Human Concern International will be taking part in future activities and campaigns to end abuse of migrant workers through providing assistance and support to these campaigns in line with HCI’s core values of promoting human rights, and respecting all those who are in need of them.

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Feb 042010
 

A group of underprivileged Iraqi and Jordanian children volunteers met after school over couple of months to rehearse for a play called The Happiness Forest.

The play served as a safe and effective space for the children to learn lessons on peaceful coexistence, pluralism, gender equality, tolerance and non-violence.

The play was debut on the prestigious Royal Cultural Center in Amman, Jordan and was attended by hundreds of children from the same unprivileged neighborhoods.

The play is produced by Noura Al-Qaisi and directed by Mohamed Amro in participation with New Development (NDev) and Jordanian Child Theater.

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Jun 102009
 

Iraqi refugeesJordan hosts around 500,000 Iraqi refugees among which about two thirds are children and youth below the age of twenty four. A large number of them are known to be physically, psychologically, and/or economically vulnerable. In the poor neighborhoods of Amman deprivation and the limited availability of resources create tensions between low income Jordanians and poverty stricken Iraqi refugees. This dynamic often leads to the stigmatization of these refugees and makes their struggle to survive even harder. Children are especially vulnerable to the negative mental health outcomes and general social disadvantage that may result from this. HCI believes that young people’s voices, perspectives and participation are all necessary and critical resources that are able play a key role in shaping their communities’ future, so since 2007 together with our longtime local partner, New Development, we have been working to bolster social cohesion and empower these vulnerable communities to unleash their potentials in order for them to establish themselves and help their families and their overall communities, while securing much needed necessities through relief aid.

Iraqi refugeesA group of underprivileged Iraqi and Jordanian children have been meeting after school to rehearse for a play called “The Happiness Forest”; this play is one of the many projects HCI’s multifaceted Aid for Change program plans to implement. The play serves as a safe and effective space for the children to learn lessons on peaceful coexistence, pluralism, gender equality, tolerance and non-violence. Research has shown that having groups of children cooperating and working together towards a common goal is one of the best ways to break down negative stereotypes and stigmas, and build a sense of community. This is very evident in our group; during rehearsals we witness these children from different backgrounds interact with each other like one big happy family. Although they are still young, with their efforts they are already changing the way that their society functions; they represent a new generation of Jordanians and Iraqis, coexisting and supporting each other in a community where everyone is in dire need of help. This is the essence of what Aid for Change aims to accomplish. “The Happiness Forest” will debut on the 15th of June on the prestigious Royal Cultural Center in Amman.

Iraqi refugees“Aid for Change” is unique because it is specifically designed to help impoverished refugees and their neighbors while taking into consideration the reality of their situation; when every day is about finding enough food, water and other basic necessities to survive: widows cannot afford to send their children to school and pay for their learning materials, when they can barely manage to survive on occasional in-kind assistance from their neighbors; farmers cannot afford to risk trying new agricultural methods, when they can barely manage to survive on a small patch of land; the unemployed never have a chance to learn new skills if they spend all day making a living on the black market; and, poverty-stricken communities are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment. This consideration is key to the philosophy of Aid for change; we cannot expect a person that survives day to day to give up his daily work to attend a workshop; imagine a group of mothers and widows learning about first aid and hygiene, unsure about how to secure food for the day, yet determined to lift their families out of misery and offer them a decent life by gathering much needed life skills. This is not the case with the workshops conducted by HCI; these women do not need to worry about basic necessities since they are provided with essential supplies individually selected for each family based on their actual need.

Iraqi refugeesSince the first phase of the program was launched in February, 300 vulnerable families have received basic aid supplies, such as food items, first aid kits and basic hygiene kits that they would normally be unable to afford yet are in need of. In addition workshops that address several issues such as first aid, food safety and child care have also been offered to 150 women. “The information from the classes was as helpful as the items they later gave us; I discovered a lot that I wasn’t aware of; things like the vaccinations my children needed and the proper way to prepare and to store food” Marwa a young Iraqi mother of two tells us during a coffee break at one of the food safety workshops. “I am glad I came, I think it is a good idea to offer aid items after the classes; I was a bit reluctant to come to the workshop at first, I have to work… but I was motivated when I heard that food and supplies would be offered afterwards, as you know, we need all the help we can get”.

Iraqi refugeesIn the next phase of the program 50 widows will be assisted to develop viable home-based businesses. They will be compensated with basic necessities to devote time and energy to develop such businesses, 100 Iraqi children will be given much needed educational materials and 50 people with special needs will be taught new skills in a series of workshops to put them on their way towards developing viable micro businesses that will help them build sustainable futures for themselves.

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Mar 122009
 

Iraqi Refugees in NeedHCI team in Jordan was busy last month in Jordan launching its new initiative for Iraqi refugees living in Jordan: the Aid for Change initiative, aiding vulnerable people with the aim to change their lives through self-help and self-directedness. This new initiative will be implemented in partnership with the Jordan-based New Development Organization. It will build on HCI’s previous initiatives supporting Iraqi refugees in Zarqa, Jordan since the year 2007.

For poor Iraqi refugees, every day is about finding enough food, water and other basic necessities to survive: widows cannot afford to send their children to school and pay for their learning materials, when they can barely manage to survive on occasional in-kind assistance from their neighbors; the unemployed never have a chance to learn new skills if they spend all day making a living on the black market; and, poverty-stricken communities are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment.

And to top all this, these poor refugees have to cope with all their feelings of grief, depression, disquiet sleep, and loss of appetite; which are normal human reactions to an abnormal incident and not the other way round. What they are going through is not a weakness in their characters or lack of faith, but they are alone and isolated in their suffering. The psychological demoralization has also shaken all the values and hopes that they carried.

Zarqa CityHCI’s program will help low-income and needy Iraqi mothers, Iraqi with special needs to secure basic necessities for themselves and their families, such as food and non-food items. At the same time, this program will help them secure an income by themselves, so they can break out of the poverty trap and build sustainable future for the entire family either in Jordan or in their home country, Iraq.

HCI’s program will pay participants with basic necessities to build (or rebuild) their lives. Basic aid supplies, such as food and non-food items, given to the right people, at the right time, make it possible for them to devote time and energy to development opportunities. HCI’s assistance is to give Iraqi refugees the chance to take the first steps out of the poverty trap, thus to establish a life for themselves and their families.

The philosophy of this project is to unleash the potentials of vulnerable Iraqi refugees to establish themselves and help their families and their overall communities, while securing much needed necessities through relief aid. When these potentials are unleashed and made use of, these refugees will feel that they are able of bread wining, keeping a shelter, and belonging to an extended social group. All these satisfy the natural human hierarchy of needs, thus putting the mental/psychological state back on track.

Through this project, widows will be assisted to develop viable home-based businesses. They will be compensated with basic necessities to devote time and energy to develop such businesses. People with special needs will learn new skills and develop viable micro businesses that will help them build sustainable future. Women will be trained on practical topics such as parental and child health. Children will be assisted to stage a play addressing issues such social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. Children will organize a carnival and will be given educational materials and taught about issues concerning pluralism, gender equality, tolerance and non-violence.

This is what we termed as aid for change, aiding vulnerable people with the aim to change their lives through self-help and self-directedness.

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Sep 242008
 

“It is like a celebration of being accepted, being taken care of and being supported,” commented one of the Iraqi refugees in Zarqa, Jordan, who was receiving medical equipments provided by HCI. She is one of many Iraqis benefited from HCI long-time project helping Iraqi refugees, particularly those with special needs, with relief supplies, medical equipments and supplies and nutrition support.

Here in Jordan, the villas and fine cars of well off Iraqis in suburban west Amman belie the circumstances of less advantaged Iraqi “guests,” who settled into congested, relatively anonymous urban neighborhoods alongside low-income Jordanians. Without residency permits and unable to work legally, Iraqis are often fearful of seeking out official forms of assistance. They largely confine themselves to their homes because of economic constraints, disabilities and concerns about their legal status. Access to educational and health services remain limited. Their situation becomes ever more precarious, as meager resources dwindle and their future remains uncertain. They are struggling to hold their families together with very little means. They don’t know what is going to happen to them. Their current situation is grim, but they say there is no way they can go home. Home is where they saw the killing and kidnapping of loved ones, the destruction of their communities and the constant threat of violence, torture and extortion. Growing numbers are living at or below the poverty line. The resources of many families have dwindled to almost nothing and this creates concern about the simplest things, like how they will feed their children each night.

It is estimated that Jordan is hosting more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees, while the city of Zarqa is hosting large number of them; high number of them are known to be physically, psychologically and/or economically vulnerable. About two thirds of Iraqi refugees in Jordan are children and youth below the age of 24.

The project intends to serve 1000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the first year, including 200 refugees with mental or physical impairment and 200 children and youth below the age of 24. In its first phase, the project is working to enhance the standard of living of vulnerable Iraqi refugees, particularly persons with mental and physical impairment, female-headed households, elderly and children. The project is also working to build the capacity of local CBOs and social workers to provide at-home individualized support and individualized relief aid for vulnerable Iraqi refugees, particularly persons with mental and physical impairment.

During the holy month of Ramadan, HCI provided individualized relief aid for vulnerable Iraqis refugees with disability which include:

  • Essential medical equipments for people with disability,
  • Basic home maintenance/appliances that contribute to accessibility and mobility as well as capacity for independent living, and
  • Food and nutritional aid.

This was preceded by capacity building activities for local CBOs and local social workers to provide at-home individualized support and individualized relief aid for people with disability using combination of theoretical training and field application. 10 women social workers developed systems and gained skills to provide at-home needs assessment and profiling. Over one week, social workers visited every beneficiary and assessed their needs on the ground.

Items distributed include: wheelchairs, crutches, bath seats, elevated chairs, toilet aid accessories, ramps, hearing aid accessories, medical mattresses, and other essential medical and accessibility supplies for people with disability.

HCI has been working with local partners, particularly HCI local partner New Development (NDEV), to assist Iraqi refugees in Jordan since 2005. HCI has extensive experience assisting refugees and displaces persons and promoting social cohesion in the region.

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Jul 182008
 

Physical and psychological disability among Iraqi refugees in Jordan is known to be very high, with higher rates among children and youth. About two thirds of disabled Iraqis are children and youth below the age of 24.

Layla, age six years, is the daughter of an Iraqi family who fled the conflicts in Bghdad in the mid nineties and took refuge in Zarqa, Jordan’s second largest city, which struggles with poor physical infrastructure, congestion, industrial pollution, and limited community support capacity, as reflected in high rates of poverty, child labor and crime.

Layla has Down Syndrome which resulted in impairment of her cognitive ability, moderate learning disability, and noticeable slow physical growth as well as facial appearance.

“Although she is six years old, but her slow physical growth makes her look like a one year old baby,” said her mother when I visited them with my HCI colleagues yesterday. “She can’t talk, can’t walk and eat very slowly like a newborn baby,” her mother added.

Layla lives with her three brothers and sister and her two parents in a small apartment on the outskirt of Zarqa. Her father Jalal is a house-painter working irregularly in the informal market because he lacks work permit. His average monthly income of $200 can barely cover the $100 monthly house rent and the $100 monthly tuition for Layla’s special school for people with learning disability.

“I tried to look for a job to support the family income since my husband’s work is very irregular, and at best what he earns is not enough to cover our basic needs. But I can’t leave my five kids alone especially Layla who needs constant care and assistance to do her daily activities,” her mother commented. “We don’t have relatives here in Jordan to support us and we have no access to our relatives in Iraq, but we survive on occasional little assistance from our neighbors as well as from aid programs such your appreciated program,” she concluded.

Although Layla’s physical limitations cannot be overcome, education and proper care improve her quality of life. Early childhood interventions, screening for common problems, and vocational training, in addition to conducive family environment would improve the overall development of Layla.

“Since we enrolled Layla last year in this special school, we noticed significant improvement in Layla’s receptiveness,” said Layla’s mother. “Now, she always smiles and we noticed improvement in her weight and more willingness to eat,” she added.

I asked Layla’s mother what the family most in need of. “Despite our terrible economic condition, I will do all I can to give Layla the opportunity to improve her overall development and her quality of life. She deserves to be given this opportunity. I will do all I can to keep her in this special school and provide her with the best environment at home which is vital to improve her overall development,” Layla’s mother responded. “Her monthly school tuition is $100 which covers the transportation since the school is not in Zarqa but in Amman. She also requires baby napkins, powdered milk, easy to swallow food, and I want to bring for her a clip-on chair,” she concluded.

My colleagues continued the formal at-home needs assessment with Layla’s mother and the prioritization of their needs, while I sat with Layla playing with her and her ten-years-old sister Mariam who help her mother taking care of Layla, and her seven-years-old brother Yousef who was busy eating some the sweets we brought with us. HCI will provide individualized relief aid for those vulnerable Iraqi refugees with disability such as food and nutritional aid, basic home maintenance/appliances that contribute to accessibility and mobility as well as capacity for independent living, and essential medical equipments for people with disability.

I concluded my visit more convinced that HCI’s individualized support is a necessity. The need for at-home support and other one-to-one type of assistance by experienced social workers combined with individualized relief aid for Iraqi refugees with disability, particularly children and youth, is essential.

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Jul 162008
 

Rahma Kouzah, age twenty months, has a severely deformed skull and her eyes bulge out. She lives with her mother Samia and her brother Ahmed age 6 years in Zarqa, Jordan’s second largest city, in small rented but untenable house lacking basic amenities. Her parents, from Palestinian origins, fled the conflicts in Baghdad in 2006 to Jordan. However, her father, who used to work as electrician in Iraq, has been deported from Jordan because he lacks legal residency and is now unemployed and living in the West Bank unable to unite with his family. Her mother, Samia, is neither Jordanian, nor technically an Iraqi. So she has no access to public or government services and her son Ahmed can’t attend public schools.

Samia, with a non-stop smile, does not benefit from any assistance by aid agencies targeting Iraqi refugees (since she is technically not Iraqi) neither from assistance targeting Jordanians (since she is not Jordanian) nor from assistance targeting Palestinian refugees (since her husband is not registered with the UNRWA). For this reason, Samia told me that she is surviving on occasional little assistance from her neighbors as well as from programs such as HCI’s new program in Zarqa.

Samia told me that she feels “sheltered” when HCI team visit her. I asked her why? She responded that she feels she is forgotten in her tiny house, but HCI team makes her feel being taken cared of. “Every time HCI team visit me or call me, they give me hope and I feel secure and not forgotten,” Samia commented with a heartbreaking smile. “They come and sit with me on the ground asking me about not only my needs but more importantly my concerns and my hope. They make me feel optimistic in my difficult situation,” Samia added. “They come and play with my disabled daughter, who I fear taking her out because people does not want to admit she exists and aid agencies refuse to see her, and many do not recognize her as human,” Samia concluded looking at her daughter who sat on the couch quietly looking at us.

Rahma’s mother suspects radioactive materials used in bombs in Iraq caused the deformities. Rahma sleeps at night with her eyes open bulged out because of the deformity, as she is still in Iraq afraid from bombs.

I asked Samia what the family most in need of. “I am badly in need of my daughter’s basic supplies, such as milk, baby food, baby napkins, and more importantly I need a clip-on push chair for her that can conceal her face so I can take her out without raising the fear of my neighbors, particularly kids,” Samia responded. “When I take her out, people on the street look at me as I am carrying a non-human,” Samia added.

We left Samia’s apartment accompanied by her 6-year-old son Ahmed who is hoping to attend a school later this year.

Kouzah family is one of the beneficiaries of HCI’s new program in Zarqa with an objective to enhance the standard of living of vulnerable refugees coming from Iraq, particularly persons with mental and physical impairment, female-headed households, elderly and children. HCI will provide individualized relief aid for those vulnerable Iraqis refugees with disability such as food and nutritional aid, basic home maintenance/appliances that contribute to accessibility and mobility as well as capacity for independent living, and essential medical equipments for people with disability.

I got in the car and I started to assess our approach and why Samia’s family who is with no doubt one of the most vulnerable families in Zarqa has not had access to services by aid agencies yet other than HCI: what makes HCI different and efficient is its exceptional at-home individualized support and individualized relief aid. We reach vulnerable people, listen to them, identify with them their needs on the ground, and provide them with such individualized relief support. It may take more resources but this what HCI is for: helping people one person at a time.

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