When the bombs started falling, in Um Youseff’s hometown on the outskirts of Damascus, she knew she had no choice, but to flee. Gunfire from opposing forces was coming both sides of the street, and it was not long before Um’s family home, along with every other house on her row, was destroyed. With her husband and two daughters, Um made the long and dangerous trip to cross the border into Lebanon.
Lebanon now hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees – that’s ¼ of the country’s entire population. The UN recently reported that the number could rise to 1.5 million by the end of 2014. As the numbers of refugees fleeing mounts, tension between Syrians and the host Lebanese community is on the rise and conditions for refugees ever depleting.
Lebanon does not host refugees in camps as seen in neighbouring countries such as Jordan or Turkey. In the main, refugees rent cheap housing, squat in derelict buildings or take shelter in makeshift tents.
Um Youseff and her family rent an apartment in the Jeb-Janin. What may seem on the outside as a comfortable existence is in actual fact, a ticking time bomb. The apartment costs Um’s family $500 per month and they have had to use their life savings, selling off everything from their car and their prized possessions, in order to be able to pay the rent. But their money is running out.
A lack of jobs in Lebanon, and limitations to the type of work Syrians are allowed to do, means that Um Youseff and her family have had little chance to work their way out of poverty.
Um Youseff is a retired Art teacher and utilized her previous work experience in ActionAid’s ‘Cash for Skills’ programme. More than 275 Syrian women received vocational training in sewing and handicraft - with more than 30 years of experience in the art world under her belt, Um found it easy to adapt to this new artistry and even took over the position of teacher; educating more women to build up skills that can earn them a living in the future. Each of the women had an added incentive to earn money whilst undertaking the training, making it easier to leave their work at home behind.
For Um Youseff, taking part in the training had more than monetary value. She said,” It was a good learning experience for me to be part of ActionAid’s vocational training. My self-confidence came flooding back and now I feel inspired to do even more things, like learning English.”
Um Youseff dreams to return back to Syria one day and resume her daily routine. She said “I want the beautiful image about my country to stay in my mind that is why I refuse to see the images that are posted on Facebook coming out from our neighborhood.”
It is estimated that since the start of the conflict, 150,000 people have died and many more injured. Despite attempts of peace talks earlier in 2014, there seems no end in sight for Syrians desperate to hold on to the memory of their homes. Until a solution is found, ActionAid will continue to help many more people like Um and her family, giving them new skills and ways to improve their livelihoods.