As Lebanon continues to grapple with its multiple crises, NGOs have been bridging the gap in aid efforts for the past year and half.
With the country’s youth struggling to make lives for themselves, often seeking to move abroad, youth empowerment campaigns have been offering opportunities and skills that would allow them to stay and improve their communities.
Several EU-funded programs focus on youth empowerment, hoping to have an economic and social impact.
Since March 2020, Oxfam Italy’s “YOUth CAN!: Promoting Youth Economic Empowerment in Lebanon” program has been supporting startups and businesses led by young people. It has done this by increasing their entrepreneurial, advocacy, and networking skills, thereby helping youth-led startups and social enterprises to be sustainable.
Reine Metlej, one of the program’s beneficiaries and co-founder of BIOWayste – a startup dedicated to recycling organic waste – is now ready to expand the business further with the program’s help.
“It all started when we found that approximately 40-60 percent of the waste in the dumpsites is composed of organic waste,” Metlej told The Daily Star. “So we started thinking about how we can divert this waste from dump sites and benefit from it, as a source of renewable resources.
“BIOwayste offers ZEROW, a decentralized enclosed machine that converts organic waste such as food waste or animal manure into cooking gas and organic liquid fertilizer,” she added. “It’s an efficient, economical, user-friendly, and eco-friendly solution for food businesses, farms, hospitals, and municipalities.”
Metlej said that the EU-funded program helped to level up BIOwayste’s business, by improving their skills and providing essential guidance throughout the training. The project is now ready to be pitched to investors, allowing them to make their project more accessible, enter large-scale production and hire a larger team.
“Today and after two years of hard work and commitment, we are harvesting success and we won’t stop until we fulfill our vision to become the next leader in waste-to-energy technologies in the region,” Metlej said. “We achieved a lot, we won many awards on national and regional levels ... and now we are working on optimizing the design of our machine to start officially producing more units.”
The EU is also funding “Technical Assistance for a More Practice Oriented Vocational and Technical Education in Lebanon,” run through their partnership with Germany’s GIZ International Services.
The program offers high-level vocational training for practical skills such as plastering or electrical wiring, in order to provide job opportunities in these fields.
A third program which began in April 2020, “YESI: Youth Empowerment for Social Impact,” implemented by Italy’s Cesvi Fondazione Onlus, has focused on community projects run by young people.
One of their beneficiaries is Ali Iskandarani, who founded DT Saida Club, a community youth center that teaches sports, social skills and offers a constructive way for Sidon’s 13 to 30-year-olds to spend their time.
“The club has had an impact on the community. It used to be a rundown area with a lot of issues before we put the club there,” Iskandarani said. “At the time , there were a lot of sports champions coming out of Saida and competing internationally, so we got these athletes to come to the club and teach our youths things like kickboxing and karate.
“The YESI team has been teaching us financial management for our center, how to apply for funds or create funds to become sustainable,” he added. “We have weekly virtual sessions with them about these topics. They are helping us with capacity-building and expansion, through creating our own products and selling them to put funds back into our programs.
“It’s very helpful and they’re giving us a lot of tools and videos we can even share with our students,” he said. “They’re even having us sit with lawyers to understand where we fit in the Lebanese legal system – from basic internal structuring to what we’re allowed to do as an NGO.”
The EU hopes these projects will have lasting effects beyond the completion of these programs in 2022, and that the skills learned can be used to keep such initiatives afloat during Lebanon’s crises.