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The Power of a Good Word
The Power of a Good Word
Neighborhood Committees in Lebanon Show That Facing Problems Together Makes Them Conquerable
There are few places in Tripoli that showcase the face of poverty and neglect as much as Wadi Nahle. A neighborhood that has helped give the northern Lebanese city its notorious position as the poorest city on the Mediterranean. Described by a local newspaper as ‘a slum within a slum’, Wadi Nahle exemplifies Tripoli’s already dire situation with dirt roads riddled with potholes and running sewage, bullet-ridden shacks clustered randomly yet efficiently for the utmost use of space, and mazes of narrow alleys zigzagging the neighborhood. The smell is a distinct combination of open-fire cooking with the foul odor of open sewage on a warm spring day.
UmMuhammad is a Syrian refugee working with one of the local neighborhood committees organized through CARE partners. CARE Lebanon has been collaborating with partner organizations in Tripoli to form committees among the local residents in several neighborhoods. The committees include a mix of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese who have participated in awareness sessions on topics ranging from conflict management and tenant rights to domestic violence and early child marriage. The trainings equip them with skills and know-how to provide basic counseling and support to neighbors, both local and refugee.
“There are 14 people on our committee,” explains UmMuhammad. “We have daily meetings either in the morning or at night.” UmMuhammad fled to Lebanon five years ago from the Syrian city, Hama. Her role on the neighborhood committee has provided an opportunity for her to meet with other members of the community to inform and build awareness, but also to resolve conflicts.
“If I find that my neighbors are having a domestic dispute, I talk to them, sometimes a good word goes a long way in making sure the argument doesn’t escalate,” says UmMuhammad. She adds that the neighborhood welcomes their efforts and that people want to hear what they have to say. “The awareness sessions fill up quickly, and there is a small competition among the women on how many sessions they have been to”.
Even when matters are sensitive to cultural norms, UmMohammad says people listen and try to understand the messages being shared.
“Nobody knows what is under the surface in each household, but people give us a chance even when the subject is about marrying off their daughter. Sometimes they just need to hear a different point of view,” the Syrian mother says.
The committees continue to provide a sense of solidarity with the neighborhood families they relate to. “The people here are good inside, but their situation makes them do bad things. Unemployment and poverty are leading them astray but when you talk to them, there is huge potential.” This is UmMohammad’s message and that of the committees - one providing hope to communities, and finding that when people have a chance to do what’s right for themselves and their environment, they do the best they can with what they have.