8 March 2010
Nahr el-Bared, Lebanon
Women from the destroyed Nahr el-Bared camp (NBC) in Lebanon are rebuilding their lives – and their businesses – thanks to specialised training courses.
The 2007 conflict at Nahr el-Bared destroyed most of the camp’s thriving economic climate. Women, who had owned more than 10 per cent of the camp’s businesses, were left with few options to contribute economically.
UNRWA’s capacity building project for women and girls of NBC, a partnership with the NBC Women’s Programme Centre and the Austrian Development Corporation, prepares women to join the workforce – and boost the camp’s economy.
The courses, which include hairdressing, food preparation and sweets manufacturing, were offered based on the women’s own preferences.
Sisters Ahlam (34) and Ayda (30), students on the popular hairdressing course, plan to open their own salon. Ahlam’s small grocery was destroyed during the conflict. The training, she says: “provided encouragement for us financially and mentally to open our own shop. We have high spirits about it.”
Ayda agrees: “Before we were feeling so bored; we were not doing anything. Our family prevented us from going out and we had no friends. Now we feel much better and have much more freedom.”
Learning with others also extends women’s informal social networks, and with it their access to information and resources. One student says: “We have developed our hairdressing skills but also how to work and deal with other people.”
“The course is making girls feel more confident and like they have a purpose.”
The students must overcome social barriers to even attend the training, including convincing family members of its value. But the women say it is worth the fight. They point to the difference between their own personality and those of their peers who have remained at home, focused only on domestic work.
“My personality has changed, I now have the freedom to express my feelings,” says one woman.
Other women and girls who left school early plan to seek jobs in established salons after graduation, rather then return to home and domestic duties.
While the women realise there are also considerable challenges to seeking work outside the home, they feel the benefits will far outweigh the initial difficulties. Studies show that including women in the labour force is often the single step out of the poverty cycle, as the income they contribute makes a crucial difference to their families’ wellbeing.
Text by Kristen A. Cordell, UNRWA gender consultant