Getting down to business in Khan Dunoun refugee camp

14 March 2012

To prepare for the Engaging Youth conference and to provide context for discussions, we have gathered stories from our fields of operation about the work we do to engage young Palestine refugees throughout the region.

Engaging youth in Syria

14 March 2012
Damascus, Syria

On a quiet street in Khan Dunoun, a Palestine refugee camp near Damascus, a colourful banner stands out: “Lotus for Women’s Hairdressing and Beauty”. The modest hairdressing shop has one small room, with just a mirror, shampoo chair, bowl, and dryer. It may not seem like much, but to Hanan ‘Ali ‘Ali, it means everything – it’s something she can call her own.

From a housewife to an amateur hairdresser, 30-year-old Hanan opened her shop in June 2011 with help from UNRWA’s Engaging Youth Centre. After dropping out of school in the ninth grade and raising four children, she wanted to support her family while doing what she enjoyed. The Centre connected her with a three-month hairdressing course.

“I learned about the course through ads the Engaging Youth Centre had posted on the walls of the camp,” she explains. “Their vocational education officer then helped me enrol in the course.”

Engaging Youth with UNRWA services

Funded by the European Union, Engaging Youth runs 12 youth development centres in Palestine refugee camps across Syria, to make UNRWA services more accessible to youth. The centres are staffed by enthusiastic and talented young people who connect thousands of young refugees like Hanan with educational, vocational, and other opportunities.

“The course helped me to strengthen my confidence and practise the cosmetic skills I have always enjoyed,” Hanan explains. Armed with a training certificate and her own perseverance, she established a hairdressing and beauty retreat open to residents of the refugee camp. Building on that success, she then borrowed money to rent and equip her own salon.

Recognising the importance of the Engaging Youth project in getting her to where she is today, Hanan made a conscious decision to hire three other women from the training to work in her salon.

Helping each other to become self-reliant

Mervat Ismail, a 31-year-old mother of four, credits Engaging Youth for the opportunity to work in Hanan’s salon. “It helps if you have been well-trained,” she says. “I have now become a contributing member of my community, and have secured an additional income for my family.”

Mervat and the other women who work at the salon benefit from mentoring each other, and they all look forward to pursuing more advanced courses in hairdressing and cosmetics. Working in the shop together, the young women also have a chance to share their experiences, discuss their problems, and broaden their horizons.

UNRWA’s Fouzi Madfaa is proud of their achievements. “Engaging Youth gives refugees like these young women the tools they need to become empowered and achieve the kind of future they want. These kinds of projects change the lives of young Palestine refugees for the better.”

For other young refugees looking to take control of their future, Hanan shares her advice: “If you get the opportunity to acquire any skill, grab it. It is an immensely-rewarding privilege that few will have.”

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