From School Drop-Outs to Star Students: Girl Power in Lebanon

08 March 2010

8 March 2010
Sidon, Lebanon

Walaa and Hanadi are close friends, having grown up together in the Ein el Hillweh camp near Sidon, in Lebanon. Both girls left school very young, and long before they completed their education. Low self-esteem and decreased ambition were swift to follow.

“Being an underachiever, repeating classes and having a low performance record all led me to leave school and stay at home,” says Hanadi. ”I felt that my life had ended, my future was ruined. I’d completely lost hope.”

Help was at hand, however, through a programme for school drop-outs run by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), with funding from the European Union.

Walaa explains a bit more about the programme: “I had stayed at home for six months without school and without a job until the school principal invited me to meet with officials from this scheme. They offered me a choice: either return to school, or enrol in a vocational major of my choice to work towards a profession. I chose to work towards a qualification in photography and editing.”

Together, the two friends joined the same special one-year programme, studying and doing practical training in a fully functioning photographic studio. Both are now happily employed in a studio in the city of Sidon.

Looking back, are the girls happy with the choices they’ve made since dropping out of school? Hanadi is in no doubt that the programme helped her regain confidence and get a helping hand to a career. She says: “I would advise everyone to learn a profession in case they are unable to continue academic schooling.”

“I am very happy working in this field,” says Walaa. “It is so nice to be working in an arts-related profession.”

The director of the studio is equally satisfied with his new employees. He says: “Walaa and Hanadi are such quick learners and very active. They really are dedicated and highly motivated to improve in this profession.”

Hanadi chips in to offer a closing assessment. “Thanks to the drop-out programme, my life has changed, and for the better,” she says. “Because I go out to work everyday, I have regained hope – I know the value of my existence in society.”