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Focusing
on a positive impact

My Secondment in Lebanon: Reflection on an unforgettable time

By Tanja Schaller

Marhaba everyone,

My time here comes to an end soon and I can't believe how fast the six months passed by. This is my last week with Save the Children in Lebanon and it feels very strange because I got so used to the life here. I still remember the first days struggling with the dynamics of the city, being in a new organization and learning the different mentality of the people. Now, I'm already packing my stuff and getting ready to leave the country. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was the most invigorating time of my life. My leave will be bittersweet.

Before getting emotional, it’s time to reflect a bit on my experiences and learnings during this time. The last month of my adventure turned into a permanent exceptional situation. Still everyday ten thousands of Lebanese go to the streets to protest and block the roads. They don’t give up until all their requirements are fulfilled. That’s still the number one topic in Lebanon. No one really knows where this goes and when or how it will end. The economic crisis is escalating and slowly we see the impact of the crisis. One shop after the other has to close down and people are laid off. There are no Dollars left in the banks. Lebanese people can’t pay their bills anymore. It’s a vicious circle not knowing how to get out of it. Tragedy is growing every day and people don’t know how to cope with this situation, we hear cases every day from people committing suicide. I’m so sorry for them and truly hope this will have a good end soon.

Reflection beyond the protests

Even though the Revolution became the number one subject in the past 2 months, I came here to work for and help the children to have a better life. I think the most memorable moment is still the visit to the refugee camp in Arsal. I will never forget the faces of the children, the tents temporarily fixed with plastic sheets, as well as the meeting with the head of the camp. We had this totally surreal conversation about their fundamental worries about how to survive every day. Another similar experience I made just recently during a visit to another camp in the suburbs of Beirut. That’s not just a camp but more a village of rotten and completely damaged houses with narrow alleys looking like a maze. It was dirty, messy and it stank. Apparently, in winter when it’s raining (and it rains a lot), the streets are flooded and rats are coming out of the gullies. I don’t want to imagine this. The camp is home to approximately 50’000, mainly Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Their shelters are tiny, most of the families live in a shabby one room “apartment”. And again I felt guilty because I’m so spoiled and complain on a very high level, comparing to them, who have nothing. Their main challenges are basic, affording food or medical treatment or fighting for their children that they can go to school (they don’t enjoy even the basic rights of education for example). We went to conduct interviews with parents that live there. We heard terrifying stories from the mothers telling that some of the children are working in a factory to support the family’s income, 14 hours per day, earning almost nothing. Save the Children currently runs an informal school in this camp to ensure at least that some of the children have education and to keep them away from work.

Besides this exceptional experiences, I also spent significant time in the country office strengthening capacities of the field staff, working on various projects and supporting the team on writing proposals for fund raising. Part of my responsibility here was to improve training materials used for the beneficiaries (which I also wrote about earlier). This included to run multiple practical workshops with colleagues from different organizations including UNICEF, UNHCR and other local NGOs. The end goal of the tool improvement is always the same, namely to raise awareness to protect children from harm and violence.

I also just completed a desk research about the children of so called migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. The objective of the research is to provide information about the current situation of this vulnerable group to the team to include them in their future programming. The outcome of the report was shocking. Migrant domestic workers are usually young ladies coming from Asia or Africa to improve their social conditions by working in a household. Migrant domestic workers are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. They have no rights, they are trapped in the employer’s apartment from day one and their children born in Lebanon are in most cases stateless. This has a huge impact on accessing vital social services such as education and health. Currently, there is not much information available about these children and almost no NGO is focusing on this vulnerable group. Therefore, and as an outcome of my report, Save the Children will in future consider them in their programming.

Last but not least

Of course, there would be so much more to tell, but no space. So I keep all other stories with me until I’m back. These six months were a great school of life. I benefited a lot from this time, I grew myself personally and professionally and I expanded my horizon in all dimensions. I built valuable partnerships in the NGO environment as well as with my colleagues from the Janssen office in Beirut. Moreover, I have gained valuable insights in getting to know the dynamics of living and working in an emerging market. I can’t wait to share more of my learnings when I’m back.

My last words are dedicated to you, all who have followed and supported me during this time. Thanks a million for your continuous support, for reading my blogs and for sharing your encouragements and nice comments. It was always great to hear from you.

I wish you a happy holiday season and hope to see you soon.

Tanja