“We Can Do It”: Female Empowerment & Green Initiatives at the Women Programme Association in Burj Barajneh Camp

27 March 2022
Mariam gathers herbs from the WPA rooftop garden's green wall. © 2022 UNRWA Photo

Mariam al-Shaar, head of the Women Programme Association (WPA), a community—based organization in Burj Barajneh Camp, Lebanon guided us through their rooftop garden. The rooftop provides a safe space for women to gather, the aromatic scent of parsley, cabbage and green onions wafting around them. Immediately it reminded us of Palestinian cuisine, rich with natural flavour.

Mariam tells us about the journey she embarked on with the aim of empowering Palestine refugee women to be able     to provide a decent living for their families. “This green space came about due to an upsurge in violence and a dwindling economy. We wanted to create a place for women where they could share their troubles and grievances in a communal space at the end of a long and tiring day, while at the same time growing something for their family.” Women’s empowerment is one of the organization's core missions. WPA has also set-up a catering business that now employs women and youth from across the camp. Produce from their rooftop garden is used as ingredients in SUFRA[1] Project meals, a joint WPA initiative.

WPA works in eight camps across Lebanon, with environmental health as a key focus of their work. Mariam explains that their journey was fraught with difficulties, but that slowly improvements are noticeable, “We are also active in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and COVID-19 related awareness-raising projects. When we first started there wasn’t much engagement from the community, but with time we started receiving lots of questions and the community is getting more interested in environmental-led initiatives.”

WPA has taken on recycling and environmental health initiatives as part of their organization’s mandate. “In line with our environmental-led efforts, we have a recycling machine to help us sort the organic and non-organic waste that our kitchens produce,” Mariam says. “We are at the forefront of empowering Palestinian women socially, culturally and economically. We thank our partners including UNRWA which is at the top of our list of partners’ list, in addition to ANERA, Right to Play, Fanar and others," Mariam highlights.

“We call for more support with the environmental health projects, given the lack of resources needed to expand our environmental-led efforts." For Mariam, environmental-led initiates are “crucial for the camp, given the increasing population in a limited and packed area of the camp.”

On United Nations Gender Equality Month, UNRWA seeks to highlights the amazing work of Palestine refugees like Mariam, who highlight just how much gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow is in action in Palestine refugee camps across the Middle East.  “We can do it! Palestinian women are strong and determined and have all it takes to make a difference,” she concluded.

[1] Sufra is an Arabic term that translates into a long table on which a variety of dishes spread that family and friends gather to eat around.