Breaking the mold, Tripoli community action brings women into the light

Breaking the mold, Tripoli community action brings women into the light

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Joelle Bassoul,CARE Communications Director - Syria Crisis

The smell of spiced grilled meat leads to a spotless kitchen where several women are busy cooking local delicacies and mouth-watering desserts. As customers file in to pick up their orders or place new ones, Reda Sayadi tells with pride the story of her successful catering business.

“Our kitchen is part of our efforts to support our community,” says the director of Sanabel Nour, a Lebanese organization active in Tripoli, the country’s second largest city, where poverty and unemployment remain high. According to a 2017 World Bank study, more than half of 610,000 working age individuals in northern Lebanon have no jobs to help their families financially.

Sanabel Nour’s main goal is to provide orphans with financial support for their education. The kitchen is part of its fundraising efforts. “We can feed people, that’s easy. But education is key. It’s a guarantee for a better future,” says Reda.

Nearly 2,000 orphaned children benefit from the organization’s education program. As little as $33 (U.S.) per month can buy books and clothes for the children as well as pay for the school fees. CARE has been supporting Sanabel Nour since July 2017, providing  the grassroots organization with 15 laptops, LCD projectors, and screens.

Given Sanabel Nour’s popular success, it has also managed to add health services as well as higher education to its programs. Next to the kitchen is a new meeting room that will be used soon for awareness sessions on breast cancer.

As she tours her recently upgraded kitchen, Reda points to a new storage room. "Here, we will put fridges. Weddings in Lebanon are a big affair and a lot of food is left untouched. We collect the leftovers, store them in the fridges and prepare packages that are shared with needy people."

Economic and social disparities are clearly visible in Tripoli, even along the road that leads from Sanabel Nour to Nour al-Hayat (Light of Life, in Arabic), an association set in the heart of the city’s most sensitive neighborhood that saw deadly fighting and clashes for years. Old buildings and walls with peeling paint pave the way from the coast up to the Mankoubin neighborhood. 

Here, Salima Harb, 54, greets visitors with a confident handshake. Her journey has not been an easy one, though. “I was a social worker for years, then I decided that I was most needed here, despite my own difficulties at home where my husband suffers from chronic illness,” she says standing in the small community center that she set up in 2008.

“When I started 10 years ago, women in this area refused to come to the sessions. Then, bit by bit, we went from seven participants to 12, then 21 thanks to word of mouth. Since then, I've lost count,” she says with a smile. To solve the lack of furniture, Salima used electoral billboards as tables. “Candidates didn’t need them anyway,” she says.

With her patience, and the support of dedicated volunteers, Salima has had a lasting impact on school dropouts in her neighborhood.

“Children are taken out of school at an early age, girls to be married off, and boys to find work. When I ran our first literacy session, I was surprised to see not only children but also adults attend,” she says. One participant was 19 years old and couldn’t write his name. “Now, he can read signposts and street names when he is taking his wife and two children to the doctor.”

CARE’s latest support to Nour al-Hayat was the rehabilitation of the community center. CARE also works with its local partner organization Akkarouna to deliver psycho-social support to children in the area.

Salima still can’t believe that her association is about to mark its 10th anniversary, despite all the challenges. “I called it Light of Life, because life here is full of clouds and darkness.”

Sanabel Nour and Nour al-Hayat are two of several local organizations that CARE supports in Tripoli. Since CARE established its presence in Lebanon in 2013, we have been able to reach nearly 300,000 people including about 110,000 refugees with basic assistance, shelter rehabilitation, cash, water infrastructure, and more.

Reda Sayadi is the director of Sanabel Nour, a Lebanese organization active in Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, where poverty and unemployment remain high.