In Lebanon, where their economic conditions frequently hold them back from educational attainment and other opportunities, Palestine refugee youth cling to every ray of hope. Their living conditions motivate them to seize every opportunity that they can, to work hard and to give back to help their family and their community.
One such Palestine refugee is Salim Issa, 26, from Saida in South Lebanon. When he finished high school, he joined the only 13 per cent of refugees who reach the baccalaureate level, but could not continue on to university – his family could not afford the fees at either the Lebanese University or one of the private universities. His father, who attended school up to the sixth grade, worked in a tannery, while his mother, who managed to finish high school, had never been employed. In Lebanon, low educational attainment and lack of employment opportunities have, over the years, led to a situation in which two thirds of Palestine refugees live in poverty and 6.6 per cent in extreme poverty.
Unwilling to give up, Salim says, “I decided to enroll in Siblin Training Centre. It was my last resort to pursue my educational attainment.” Siblin is one of the two UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) vocational and technical training centres in Lebanon, which together provide around 1,000 young Palestine refugees with skills training and skills to help them find employment or create new opportunities for themselves.
Salim chose to specialize in IT systems, and over two years, he proved to be an outstanding student. His studies in Siblin were fruitful; from the first day, he started acquiring new information and skills.
One of those was persistence: “One of the graduation requirements was to conduct an on-the-job training in a company”, he says, but finding a company was not an easy task, especially in Lebanon, where Palestine refugees face many obstacles in the labour market and are legally barred from more than 30 professions. “But I got lucky and one of the companies accepted to train me for one month. When the training period was over, the director of the company asked me to start working as a programmer for electronic systems”, says Salim. “I was overwhelmed with happiness.” He calls Siblin his “gateway to the labour market.”
With training under his belt and a good job, Salim was able to nurture greater ambitions. “I saved a large part of my monthly salary and submitted it as a down payment for one of the universities”, he says. Working the night shift for three years so he could go to school during the day, Salim eventually earned a master’s degree in telecommunications engineering.
Today, Salim works for another company in Saida, as an administrator for computer maintenance. Through hard work and determination, he’s managed to improve his own situation. He also contributes to the family’s expenses, and helps one of his two brothers – they also have three sisters – pay for his own university education.
Despite Salim’s success, he’s concerned about the limits on the ambitions and aspirations of himself, his younger brother and other Palestine refugee youth in Lebanon. He’s achieved education, employment and new opportunities, but many things are still missing: “I do not have any health insurance or compensation, and I cannot have a fixed job, either; there’s no consistency.” Salim is not alone - lack of job security is an obstacle facing the vast majority of those employed, only 7 per cent of whom hold contracts. Many challenges remain for these young Palestine refugees, but every step is an important one.