Within the framework of the project Rooting Development in the Palestinian Context two project members, Helmut Krieger and Klaudia Rottenschlager from the University of Vienna, took part in the kick-off meetings at the partner NGOs in Lebanon and Jordan.
The trip offered the first opportunity for the Vienna-based colleagues to meet in person and jointly discuss the project components with Kassem Sabbah, director of Mousawat in Lebanon and Rahma Abud- Alrahman, director of the Community Development Committee (CDC) in Jordan. Furthermore, Mousawat, CDC and their team members enabled their Austrian colleagues to gain invaluable insight into their daily working conditions, current (research) projects and the political, economical and social challenges for Palestinian as well as Syrian refugees in the region.
Mousawat’s headquarter is located right at one of the entrances of Mar Elias, a small Palestinian camp located in Beirut. Mousawat holds its meetings with national and international organizations and donors there, plans its research and activities in supporting underprivileged groups of Palestinian refugees (especially people with disabilities, young refugees and displaced people) and runs its rehabilitation centre, which includes a workshop for prostheses, a physiotherapy practice and counselling facilities. Since the outbreak of the war in Syria, these facilities are one of the only possibilities of Syrian refugees to receive free treatment in Lebanon. As Mousawat is also active in other Palestinian camps throughout Lebanon, Kassem Sabbah could give detailed information about the current situation of the approximately half a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the Syrian Palestinian refugees arriving since the outbreak of the war in Syria.
Palestinian refugees are still facing massive and multiple forms of discrimination regarding access to employment, social security and the right of ownership or property and are not entitled to apply for citizenship in Lebanon. Lebanese army checkpoints can be seen today at the entrances to camps like Nahr el Bahred, Ain El Hilweh and Burj El Shamali. One of their functions is to prevent the refugees from bringing building materials into the camp to improve their housing conditions. Nearly all of the camps are overcrowded, lack proper supply of electricity, sewage systems, health care facilities, and employment possibilities, especially for young Palestinians.
During the project meeting a visit to Shatila camp with a group of young field researchers from all over Lebanon was organized.
Shatila, which was founded by UNRWA in 1959, became a tragic example of violence against Palestinians in Lebanon, not just during the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, but also during inner fractional violence during the Lebanese civil war.
The Community Development Committee (CDC) was founded by the legal umbrella of UNRWA in 1998 and is based in Zarqa camp, an hour drive from the capital Amman. CDC leads a coalition of seven NGOs in the Zarqa governorate and coordinates 14 women’s and community centers in ten Palestinian camps throughout Jordan. Following Rahma AbudAlrahman, the director of CDC, and her team during their daily work provided the opportunity to experience the huge bureaucratic and organizational efforts in coordinating different activities and projects within their network. The colleagues from Vienna were also introduced to a relatively new project, a film club that was launched together with the Royal Jordanian Film Commission in order to strengthen movie production about the camps by young Palestinians.
Poverty, unemployment and a lack of responsibility by the Jordanian state in providing public services are major challenges for camp residents. Although Palestinian refugees in Jordan have the legal right to full citizenship, the system is much more complex and depends on the different historical periods of displacement from Palestine. At the moment, seven different residence categories exist for Palestinians ranging from full citizenship and full access to the labour market to different forms of residence denying access to political engagement, work, passport or any status at all.
CDC also arranged a visit to Baqa’a camp, one of the largest camps 20 km north of Amman established in 1968. The director of the local community centre explained that the biggest challenge during summer time were rats which are attracted by a lack of properly functioning sewage disposal. Due to the neglect by the Jordanian authorities the local population in the camp had to solve the problem. Furthermore, she mentioned that a lot of young camp residents leave the camp due to shortages of housing facilities and job opportunities. The centre run by CDC provides spaces for the community in Baqa’a camp to hold meetings, to receive different types of training and counselling and attend cultural events. Last but not least, she talked about the challenge to include other communities like labourers from Egypt or South Asia, as well as Syrian refugees within the already overcrowded camp.
The project meeting in Lebanon and Jordan provided the unique opportunity to experience the impressive work of the two directors of our partner NGOs which are highly committed to changing the living conditions within their own communities and enabled fruitful encounters and important discussions with the team of Mousawat and CDC.
Field researchers training
One of the main goals of the project meeting was to discuss the upcoming field researchers’ training of young Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan. The trainers emphasized the project’s aim to, first, train field researchers to expand their skills in field research and secondly, to strengthen knowledge production by Palestinians about their communities and camps. As all trainers already share long experience in teaching social science methods and are researchers themselves, the meetings provided a rare space to discuss different questions; for example, how to build a sustainable research unit that provides a space for the trainees to gain experience and learn how to develop research questions and methods that are fitting the context. Additionally, the meeting further developed the idea of how to introduce a platform to enable exchange between young colleagues despite their spatial separation, especially among the colleagues in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
Last but not least, the Austrian project partners had the rare opportunity to attend the first workshop with the selected field researchers for the training program in Lebanon and in Jordan. Hence, they had the possibility to talk with the participants about their expectations and their experiences in working together with local and international organizations. The vision of the young colleagues coming from different educational backgrounds and different camps in Lebanon and Jordan was clear: they want to work in teams to exchange their skills and to strive for change within their own society. Although the young researchers also expressed doubts due to a huge responsibility in terms of providing money for their families and themselves as well as sometimes continuing their studies beside other job responsibilities, all of them were enthusiastically looking forward to start the training and gain more skills.
The project meeting in Lebanon and Jordan enabled all team members to enrich their already well-established relationship. Additionally, the colleagues from Vienna could enhance their understanding of the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the region. The first kick-off meeting now provides the basis to continue to the next stages of the project for the upcoming years and already inspired future project ideas.