Douaa, a volunteer with Action Against Hunger. Photo: Maria Klenner for Action Against Hunger
Douaa El Mahmoud is a Syrian refugee who works with Action Against Hunger Lebanon. She conducts hygiene promotion sessions in the informal tented settlement in Baaloul, in the Bekaa Valley. Douaa has helped the community adopt healthy hygiene practices. Her volunteer experience also inspired her to apply for an academic scholarship. She is now studying law at the Lebanese University.
HYGIENE PROMOTION THROUGH COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Action Against Hunger Lebanon has led a strategic response within a consortium with Relief International (RI), Médecins du Monde (MdM) and Première Urgence Internationale (PUI) supported by USAID.
Based on a community-engagement approach, the initiative consists of working with trusted community members like Douaa who act as community mobilisers in their informal tented settlements. Following the selection and training process, the community mobilisers conduct hygiene awareness sessions, drawing attention to the danger of waterborne diseases and sharing information about water treatment, latrine cleanliness and waste management. They help educate residents of the settlement about COVID-19, sharing information about symptoms and precautions, safe isolation, cleaning and disinfection of homes and surfaces, safe usage of masks, and benefits of the vaccine. They also help support vaccination efforts by explaining how to register on the national vaccination platform.
Working directly with community members to raise awareness about the pandemic has helped alleviate taboos that normally prevent the refugee population from reporting positive cases, taking preventive measures, or registering for vaccination. The initiative helped increase reporting of positive cases, and also had a positive impact on social cohesion by bringing people of different ages and backgrounds together. Furthermore, the initiative has supported the empowerment of women and girls by supporting their active participation in community activities outside their households.
Action Against Hunger Lebanon staff training community mobilisers about COVID-19 and waterborne disease prevention. Photo : Maria Klenner for Action Against Hunger
BUILDING RESILIENCE, CREATING A BETTER FUTURE
“Action Against Hunger’s staff made me feel that there is no difference between us when we are doing the work. We communicated very easily, and the training was lively and dynamic,” says Douaa.
Douaa’s contribution did not go unnoticed by the team. “Thanks to her involvement, our work had a greater impact,” says one Action Against Hunger field officer.
“The most important thing for me as a resident is the cleanliness of the settlement, so when I speak to the people and raise awareness among children, I am happy because I contribute. It is beautiful work, and it is beautiful to volunteer because it makes you feel your value and the value of what you do, and it is even more beautiful when everyone accepts you during your work. It is very beautiful to connect with everyone: educated people, non-educated people, children… so I feel that volunteering in general creates a new person,” she explains.
Seven years ago, Douaa, then a high school student, left Syria to seek asylum in Lebanon. Like most refugee children, she faced significant barriers to continuing her education. The remote and overcrowded refugee settlement where she lives lacks privacy and a proper place to study. In order to continue her studies, she would sleep during the day and study by night, after her family went to sleep. Despite these challenges, she succeeded in obtaining her secondary school diploma. However, she had little hope that she would be able to progress further. Faced with significant legal, social and financial barriers, she did not even consider the option of a scholarship.
But volunteering with Action Against Hunger changed Douaa’s outlook. Her work as a community mobiliser helped improve her autonomy and self-confidence, and encouraged her to apply for a scholarship at the Lebanese University. Now, she is now an ambitious student with opportunities for a promising career.
“I dedicate myself to be a successful person, so in five years, I see myself as a successful person, trying to leave my mark in society. I also want to write, and I am working on a book idea. I hope in five years there will be a published book with my name on it. I hope!”
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