Meet a Community Mobilizer – An Interview in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

by Erika Bozzato

 

IMG_1840Community Mobilizers are volunteers affiliated to Lebanese NGOs that are supporting GVC during hygiene promotion campaigns with refugees coming from Syria. They carry out very valuable tasks, visiting Informal tended settlements and informing people about good hygiene practices, safe ways to handle water, and generally assess their needs, reporting them to GVC.

I had chance to interview Abdelghani one afternoon at GVC office. He has been volunteered as Community Mobilizer for quite some time already. Our staff knows him very well, because of his active commitment to supporting Syrian refugee families and extensive network in the surrounding villages. And also because he can read coffee grounds. Every time he comes to office, there is somebody eager to know about his or her future earnings and romances. Including me. Thanks to him in fact I know I won’t earn big money in my life, but I will be very much loved by people around me.

Abdelghani, a well-known lawyer from Homs, fled Syria in 2011, after receiving death threats and after snipers shot in his office. “My office was in downtown Homs” he said “I closed it in May 2011. Now even the building has been destroyed”.

I am interested in his engagement as Community Mobilizer “Can you describe me what you do on the field?”

“When we visit Syrian families, we train people about good hygiene practices and water-related diseases, assess the impact of activities carried out during GVC interventions and take note is something – a water tank or a latrine – has something broken. Beside this, we provide information about health services available to Syrian refugees in North Bekaa – where they could go to receive free (or reduced-priced) health care, their rights concerning health and organizations they can turn to. Also, informally, we try to accommodate possible animosities between refugees and their landlords, to smooth things out and improve relations. Each visit is then reported to GVC and new arrivals are pointed out”.

 

I want to know more, and I ask about the more positive and negative aspects of the work

 

“The feeling of actually helping people is very rewarding, and especially children have a lot of fun during our training. But it is hard sometimes when women and children need something that GVC is not able to provide. North Bekaa is a rather isolated area: needs are great, but only a few organizations are working here”.

 

Indeed, the North Bekaa is a relatively poor area in Lebanon, hosting a huge number of refugees, who neither state authorities nor organizations and agencies can assist properly. Relations with the hosting Lebanese community are generally good, although sometimes tensions are running high.

 

“Moreover some people are disappointed by the international community, deemed too slow to meet refugees’ necessities, and not so effective in their actions. Some of them come, ask a lot of questions, take pictures of kids and never come back”. He also affirms receiving help from UNHCR is getting trickier and trickier.

 

“And their hotline is always busy”. Reportedly they have only one phone number for all Bekaa, serving more than 400.000 refugees.

 

We try to call. It is actually busy.

 

“But what are the main struggles for refugees?”

 

“One of the main issues is definitely education. Only a low percentage of Syrian children are able to attend school. School may be too far, too expensive or not available at all. Last year the Lebanese government decided to open schools to Syrian children, but the public education system is too small to include them all. The same problem recurred this year. And most of the refugees simply cannot afford private schools.”

 

“Unemployment is another huge problem. Many refugees are unemployed or under-employed. They receive lower salaries compared to Lebanese, and many of them simply could not find a job. Moreover many professionals cannot do their job here in Lebanon – for instance engineers, lawyers, doctors, teachers and so on. And surely scraping out a living becomes problematic.”

 

“Lately safety is also becoming a reason of concern. Lebanese Army has evicted some ITSs recently (see my last post, ndr), and unknown individuals set on fire some Syrian tents in the area”. He also reports the Syrian Army trespasses Lebanese border to arrest Syrian citizens.

 

Last million-dollar question: “What do you think is going to happen in Syria in the next years?”

 

“Hopefully things will get better soon”