July 26 2017

An innovative approach to helping refugees and host communities in Lebanon

SOS Children’s Villages cares for those affected by the Syrian crisis ‘regardless of where they are from’

Luciana D’Abramo is SOS Children’s Villages’ emergency advisor for the Middle East and North Africa region. In an interview, she explains how the emergency relief programme in Lebanon is helping both Syrian refugees and host communities.

The SOS Children’s Villages emergency programme began in 2014 with an interim care centre in Khenchara, 35km east of Beirut, to provide care for Syrian refugee children who are separated from their families. In March 2017, a second emergency programme began in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, near the SOS Children’s Village in Ksarnaba.
Ms D’Abramo visited the programmes in June explains what SOS Children’s Villages is doing for both Syrian and host-community families.

The interim care centre at Khenchara has had an important role in caring for Syrian refugee children who have lost parents or are separated from their families. The Ksarnaba programme is broader. Tell us more about these programmes.

During the period that the children stay with us at the Khenchara interim care centre, we make sure that their basic needs are met. We work on a development plan to address their psychological and educational needs. But our priority is always to reunify the children with their parents or their extended families.
The Bekaa project is based on emergency family support. We are leveraging the fact that the SOS Children’s Villages has a village in Ksarnaba and already works in the area. In our emergency programme, we are using a case management approach to help Syrian refugees and host-community families to become self-sustainable. When we talk about self-sustainable, it is not only being able to get food, because this may have been provided by other organisations. Mainly we are helping families so they can start working towards the future.
It’s a model that is similar or close to our family strengthening programmes, working with the families on a case-by-case basis to understand their needs and to provide them with the different resources they need to overcome challenges and ensure a good livelihood.

How common is it in such emergencies to be working with both refugees and host communities, as we are doing in the Bekaa Valley emergency programme?

It is quite innovative to use funding for both refugees and host communities. It comes from the understanding that this emergency and the humanitarian impact affect the people regardless of where they are from. Many of the Lebanese families might be living in homes instead of settlements, but they may share, along with refugees, the lack of access to jobs or education, especially when the schools are also taking in newcomers. Further, the presence of refugees puts extra pressure on resources available to the host community such as water, electricity, transport and jobs. The host communities that are usually underprivileged feel this pressure directly when they have to compete for resources and jobs with the newcomers.

Aren’t refugees usually the most vulnerable in these situations?

In many cases there is already support from different organisations for the Syrian community coming into Lebanon. But we cannot forget that many of the areas where the Syrian refugees are living were already struggling before the refugees began arriving. When you add almost double the population without changes in infrastructure, you end up sharing the same scarce resources – work opportunities, infrastructure, schools.
That is why SOS Children’s Villages decided that the funding coming for this kind of emergency should help the refugees as well as the local Lebanese community. We are working to bring cohesion and cooperation to the community to make it easier to live together side-by-side.

How does this model in Lebanon work?

For as long as the Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, however long that may be, there is a lot of work that can be done in terms of tolerance and understanding between the communities. There are different models of intervention.
For example, we offer psychological and social support, helping families get access to education or skills training. We work with women to provide training, economic empowerment and life skills so they can improve their employment opportunities. We also draw on the case management approach to refer families to other organisations when there are needs that we are unable to fulfil.
We also work to improve the educational prospects of children. It may be as basic as providing the support for transportation so children can get to school, or helping families pay fees for private education in the case where there are no public schools or the public schools are full.

What are your overall impressions of the refugee situation in Lebanon?

As is true in other emergencies of this sort, there is an intense need for people to have a reason to wake up in the morning. They are receiving food, they have shelter and a warm place to go to. But as human beings, regardless of nationality or where we come from, once basic needs are met, we want to be able to do something to support or improve ourselves, to start thinking about the future, for example, and what you can do to rebuild your country when the time comes.
That is one reason we are exploring pilot programmes or different models for education that don’t replace formal education, but provide children with learning tools that can be in a ‘cloud’ and applied and replicated anywhere for as long as they are on the move or even after they have resettled or returned back home. Wherever they might be tomorrow, they will still have a record of what they have learned and the skills they have acquired, so they will not be a lost generation in terms of learning and follow-up. Even in conditions that are not optimal, they can still have access to training to help them prepare for what will come next and to have proof of what they have achieved.
We need to be more organised and creative in how these tools or opportunities will remain valuable to these children or families once they are in a better position to be the motors of the change towards a new brighter future.