You have given back life to my daughter. A few months ago she tried to commit suicide. She had no friends. The school hasn’t got a place for her. Now she can’t wait for Mondays, when she goes to the Centre.Mother of an Alsama girl, 14
Alsama’s first centre in Shatila
The Centre lies in the heart of the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. It offers a safe space for Syrian refugee teenage girls to learn and socialize. It consists of one classroom, a kitchen and a small office.
Originally set up in 1948 for 3,000 Palestinian refugees, Shatila now houses an estimated 40,000 people following the Syrian crisis. Thus with the camp’s roughly 1 square km footprint Shatila represents one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Moreover, Syrian and Palestinian refugees are not allowed to work in Lebanon, yet the costs of living in refugee camps in Beirut are very high. For example rent for a two-room tiny damp flat, often shared by an extended family, lies between $300-500 monthly.
As for children’s education, there are only two primary schools in the entire camp. Sending children outside the camp to school is often prohibitive because of travel costs and unaffordable school fees.
The Teenage Girls
Many Syrian refugee girls in Shatila never attend school. Some receive primary school education, and only a few go on to secondary school education. They spend their days sitting at home with nothing to do, not being allowed to go out because the camp is not safe for them. Many girls are pressurized into arranged marriage at the age of 16 or less.
The Alsama Centre
The Centre opened its doors on 13thof January 2020 to 63 girls.
Group 1: 11-14 year olds.
Group 2: 15-18 year olds.
Group 3: 19-24 year olds.
Each group receives 3 hours of professional teaching a week in English, Budgeting, Yoga, Creative Writing, Art classes.
In addition, we offer 4 hours of literacy classes a week.
Each girl commits to a 6 months programme. At the end of the programme she will receive a certificate from the Alsama Centre.
The Centre collaborates with the UNHCR’s Lebanese partner foundation, Makhzoumi, and invites their teachers to conduct self-awareness classes for the girls, at the end of which each girl receives a certificate of attendance.
The Centre also refers girls with psychological needs to the appropriate institutions and helps families to find school places for their daughters.
The girls participate in running the Centre. Each group chooses a different representative every two months. The group reps participate in bi-weekly meetings with the Centre’s management on programming, evaluation and finance. We hope that that girls, with our help, will eventually set up their own centres.
The Opening of the Centre
Opening a Centre in Shatila was relatively easy. Convincing parents to allow their girls to attend was not. So we feel proud to have reached full capacity in the first week and maintained full attendance ever since. We give credit to Kadria Hussien, the centre’s manager. Kadria is a Syrian refugee who lives in Shatila. Over the last seven years she has worked for the UN and various local NGOs in the camp. The community trusts her. The month before we opened our doors, Kadria visited the families, discussed our ideas and explained how the girls would benefit. We have only been operating for a short time, but already we have built an enviable reputation. 20 new girls have joined the waiting list.
In the past I have prevented my girls to go to activities offered by other organisations. But I trust you and now I can see how much more self confident my daughters have become. Thank you, Kadria and Alsama.Father of Shaima (13) and Nawal (14)
At the end of each month we compile a report on the centre’s overall development and challenges, each age group, each subjects taught and individual girls who have stood out and/or are in need of special help. We also include comments from the girls and their families in this report.
I used to sit at home all day, being very sad and depressed. I love studying. I want to become an international lawyer. But there is no school place for me. Now I come to the centre and I have hope again.Safa, 17