5 August 2010
Fadel Abu el Hajal is an enthusiastic young man who works hard, and dreams of a better future. Just 17 years old, Fadel recently started working in a newly reopened carpentry in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp (NBC), Lebanon. The camp was all but destroyed in the summer of 2007 during heavy fighting between the Lebanese army and the radical Islamist group Fatah Al-Islam.
Fadel left school when he was fourteen, and completed a six-month training course with UNRWA at the Al-Shimal vocational centre in NBC. Opportunities in the camp have been slim, however. “Since I finished the training, I couldn’t find any job opportunities", he explains.
As a child, Fadel dreamt of becoming a world-renowned carpenter. Spending most of his time outside the house, he often worried about his future. As a Palestine refugee in Lebanon, where Palestinians’ access to work is severely limited, Fadel feared that he would not be able to achieve his dream. "I didn’t want to be a heavy burden on my family. All I wanted was a chance to help support them, but it was not that easy," he says.
In the past three years, finding employment in and around the camp has been extremely difficult, as the 2007 conflict entirely destroyed economic activity in the area. Even before the crisis, one in five males and one in four females between the ages of 15 and 24 were out of work (FAFO, 2007).
Recently, young people from the area, such as Fadel, have had more reason to be optimistic. Thanks to a contribution from the government of Switzerland, in the last year UNRWA in Lebanon has been arranging on-the job-training placements for unemployed graduates from the Agency’s local vocational training centre. The scheme, aimed at providing sustainable employment for young people, is part of an economic development project for the whole community in NBC and the surrounding area.
A “golden opportunity”
Along with many of his friends, Fadel signed up to the scheme immediately, and as of September became one of 68 apprentices at Al-Kadi carpentry. The business itself was re-opened thanks to a European Union project to help the reactivation of local enterprise, aiming to boost the whole economy of the camp. Working at the carpentry has certainly transformed Fadel’s view of the future; the seven months training he received has proven to be “a golden opportunity”, he says, smiling.
In March 2010, Fadel finished his training, and was delighted to be offered a job in the same carpentry. He now makes enough every month to support himself and help his family. His success is mirrored by that of his peers: 60% of the apprentices found jobs, a figure that is a genuine success in light of the difficult context in the camp.
“I feel am a human being who has a goal and future”, Fadel says. “I feel like I’m climbing the ladder; I’m independent and able to provide what I need. I don’t feel like a burden on my family anymore. I am more confident.
With an eye of the future, Fadel plans to work hard and eventually to open his own carpentry in the camp one day. He hopes to be able to offer new graduates the same opportunities that were afforded to him, he explains, concluding with a word of thanks.
“On behalf of all the apprentices, I would like to thank UNRWA and the Swiss Cooperation for all their help.
Really, they helped us to achieve success and have more self-esteem.”
UNRWA’s recovery strategy for Nahr el-Bared looks to address the wider goal of developing an enabling environment for Palestine refugees to achieve recovery on their own terms. In this context UNRWA has developed specific interventions to help the population overcome these difficult circumstances, and to create a platform from which sustainable recovery is possible, with a particular focus on these vulnerable groups.
An UNRWA commissioned report published in 2009 (CRI, 2009) showed that 40% of those living in NBC were unemployed (compared to 12% prior to the crisis), with over 65% of NBC businesses reporting complete closure as a result of the crisis. Significantly this study also indicated that of those who have managed to find employment only 13% were youths aged between 15 and 24. This problem is particularly acute as this group accounts for over 50% of the working age population (15 – 65 years).
More effective recovery projects which dovetail with UNRWA’s overall recovery strategy for NBC will go a long way to recover and regain the camp’s eminence as economic hub for the North Lebanon area.