Group picture of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Youth

Winners without Weapons in the Middle East

By Iris Manner, World Vision Germany

Youth Initiative creates employment and networks for Social Change

If Europeans are unsettled about new heightened tensions in the Gulf, youth in the Middle East certainly have more reasons to be. They may have very different views on the situation, but many share personal experiences with destructive effects of conflicts and instability. Young Syrians were thrown in survival mode, while their neighbours, already affected by domestic struggles, suddenly had new competitors for education and job opportunities. It’s very clear though that the region can only recover if young people believe in their future and get the chance to use their talents. When governments choose confrontation instead of cooperation, the list of arguments for emigration is becoming longer. That’s the dark horizon.

Meet Yara from Syria, Hani from Northern Iraq, Firas Moussa from Lebanon or the “Martha Edu” team from Jordan to see a more colourful reality which is largely overshadowed by the mainstream news. These women and men in their twenties or late teenage years are showing great interest in using learning opportunities to start a career where they are. Furthermore, if they get the space and a little help, many of them are ready to do more.

Right now, we can find exciting youth-lead projects and a growing network of youth volunteers trying to promote solutions for the problems affecting their own lives. International Youth Day 2019 provides a good opportunity to shed more light on their efforts, experiences, recommendations and recent successes.

Our lens for a closer look is YOUTH RESOLVE, a regional initiative providing a platform for youth to express their views and to expand their communication, even across borders. YOUTH RESOLE also supports inclusive education and engagement beyond schools with an objective to limit marginalization and hopelessness. It is financed by the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the ‘Madad’ Fund. Started in 2017, YOUTH RESOLVE identifies actions having a potential to build resilience and to reduce tensions between refugees and host communities in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. The group of implementing organisations includes Caritas Lebanon, Generations for Peace, Islamic Relief, Questscope and World Vision, but these NGO’s involve more partners. Since 2019, YOUTH RESOLVE also serves as a platform for youth to initiate political dialogues at different levels.

Youth Resolve interview with young woman

For 19-year-old Yara and 21-year-old Hani, a combination of vocational trainings and apprenticeships have proved to be successful avenues out of isolation and dependency. Both couldn’t finish their school education due to violence and war-inflicted poverty– Yaras family settled as refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Hani became a displaced half-orphan after the IS came to Sinjar.

With her parents being unemployed, Yara’s family relied only on their relatives for assistance and support for living. “Because I am the oldest of the siblings, I felt responsible for my family”, recounts Yara. Looking for a chance to gain some skills for employment, she applied for a vocational training offered by YOUTH RESOLVE and successfully completed an English language skills course. As a result, she started to meet new friends from different backgrounds. After being identified as a talented graduate, Yara received support to work at a medical centre in Domiz Town, where she learned how to produce medical optics of eyeglasses and lenses. This learning opportunity had several positive effects for the teenager, as she states. “I became very interested in my new role, I gained new skills and experiences and I could build networks in the community.”  Since Yara completed her apprenticeship with high-quality work and a positive attitude, she was immediately offered a fixed-term contract to work with the medical complex optometric department. “My wish is to continue my studies and to become an oculist, as my current work motivates me for this path.”

Similarly, Hani managed to successfully complete vocational training and could be
placed in an apprenticeship at a mechanic shop in Semel. The owner of the shop taught Hani what to do when starting a business, closely monitoring and supporting him as he worked to further build his capacity. The money he earns helps him to buy food and other life essentials, but his hope and plans for life now go beyond that. Using his English skills, he would love to work as a translator or for a humanitarian organisation one day. Hani's main lesson learned through this journey was to believe in himself. He encourages other youth to seek work, start a career and be confident that they will be successful if they are persistent and improve their soft skills and maintain networking.

Since the private sector economy in the region isn’t able to offer jobs for all youth, even if they managed to complete education, YOUTH RESOLVE also supports start-ups, currently focusing on small businesses with some potential for job creation and social benefits.

The initiative helped more than 2,900 young people in Jordan and Iraq to obtain marketable and employability skills and around 254 so far have access to income generating opportunities.

On 24th June, 42 teams of young Syrians and Jordanians presented promising business ideas to a competition jury in Amman. 15 of them went away with awards, including a financial contribution to their plans. “These young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs reminded me of my early work days and my strong belief that the sky's the limit.” reflected judge Roaa Alkhudari, Private Sector Engagement Officer at World Vision. “We were so impressed by the ideas put forward by these young Syrians and Jordanians, and the motivation and passion in the room,” said Grace Atkinson, Executive Director of Jusoor and one of the Judges in the competition. “Investing in starting these businesses will lead to job creation even for the teams who decide not to move ahead with their presented idea, as they are coming out of this program with many additional transferable skills.”

Among the winners were service providers for waste recycling, inventors of educational resources contributing to children’s creativity or communication skills as well as creators of new tools for agricultural businesses, like a “Mushroom Box”. A program jointly run by Jusoor and World Vision Jordan guides these young entrepreneurs through their business development. The support included bootcamp training and intensive mentorship by Professionals

More than 355 application for this year’s program revealed a high interest in this kind of support, just in 4 cities of Jordan. The country-wide and regional demand is even much higher, as a social media campaign prior to the training revealed. More partners are needed to expand the initiative to more locations and business models.

Meanwhile, other youth have started to speak up to peers and policymakers, since legal and other limitations need to be addressed. On July 22, a Round Table discussion with Government officials and the European Union Delegation in Jordan allowed a group of YOUTH RESOLVE participants to share the economic opportunities they see. They had also prepared themselves to come forward with recommendations on how to overcome current limitations and hurdles. This event aligned with the launch of the Jordan National Youth Strategy 2019-2025 released on July 8th 2019. The Ministry of Youth-led strategy covers seven themes, including Youth Entrepreneurship and Economic EngagementYouth and Effective Citizenship and Youth Rule of Law and Good Governance, which relate directly to the themes identified by the youth. The Round Table was a chance for youth to build on the strategy and offer their insights on effective implementation.

Round Table conversation led by Lebanese and Syrian Youth

A similar Round Table earlier in July brought together Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian youth leaders, who jointly discussed their hopes with Politicians and other change makers including the EU delegation and the World Bank. YOUTH RESOLVE workshops had taught “newcomer” activists how to initiate and structure such a political dialogue, while more experienced youth helped to mobilize peers and to lead the discussion. Among them was 27-year-old Isra Alhasan, originally from North Syria and now living in Saida, who managed to obtain a Masters Degree in  Communication Engineering in Lebanon despite a lot of financial pressure and community reception. She currently volunteers with Islamic Relief’s youth empowerment programs and was selected to represent youths with similar experiences at the 3rd Syria Conference in Brussels. She says about her observations with the YOUTH RESOLVE initiative:

“We had conflicts between children and youth of different backgrounds but we were able to overcome these challenges with our joint activities. The fact that different youth realise they have the same issues and can find common grounds and solutions, is very positive."

Participants at both Round Tables emphasised the importance of meaningful youth participation in all decision-making processes. Based on YOUTH RESOLVE research and their own assessments, the young activists identified several priorities. 21-year-old Lebanese Firas Moussa, already active in a Youth Council, helped to include them in a position paper for Lebanon. On top of the youth leaders’ priority list is the wish to get a recognized and clear channel for their direct engagement with law and policymakers, followed by recognition of civil rights (like freedom of speech) and budgeted projects in municipalities.  To ensure an inclusive approach, the youth further demand good representation of all communities in such youth engagement spaces.

Starting with the local level would be a good and effective first step, according to Firas Moussa’s experience. The government should support the country-wide establishment of Youth Committees or Youth Councils in municipalities, following the model of some active Youth Councils located in suburbs of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. World Vision Lebanon supported the start of these youth councils which are now fully recognized and integrated into the municipalities.

A number of “Quick Impact Projects” are already providing municipalities in Lebanon and Jordan with evidence for two important assumptions of YOUTH RESOLVE:

  1. that personal interaction combined with learning opportunities in social activities can build the confidence and skills in youth to become competent partners for development and
  2. that solution-oriented interaction increases social cohesion and ultimately leads to more social stability.

Not only poor or deaf children have benefitted, but also whole families and communities. The natural use of digital technology by youth also brings chances for more inclusion: one of the Lebanese municipalities cooperating with YOUTH RESOLVE is soon going to have an APP which makes it easy for everyone to find public services, youth-friendly spaces and interesting tourism spots.

For more information about the EU MADAD Fund, please visit this page devoted to the EU Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis.