“It took me few days to realize how bad the situation in my community is,” says Safa, “before joining the project, I thought I knew my community and surroundings well. Honestly, I thought we were all managing these harsh situations in the same way. I realized that the situation was much worse than it seemed. My neighbors, whom I thought I knew well, were suffering from poverty in silence and were in need of help.” The 25-year-old, Safa is a participant in INITIATE-Women’s Program Association (WPA) employment programme in Ein el Helweh camp . Ein el Hilweh camp is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, located in Saida, with a population of 60,000 people. “
Safa, along with 120 women, is working in newly-established community kitchens to produce and distribute hot meals to food insecure households in Ein el Hilwe, Beddawi and Rashidieh Palestinian refugee camps. The project “Empowering Women And Addressing Food Insecurity Through Women-Led Community Kitchens” is implemented by Initiate and Women’s Program Association (WPA), supported by UN Women with the generous support of the Government of Japan.
“During these hard times, the hot meals we provide is essential to the families living in the camp,” explains Safa, “Some families are struggling to provide food for their children, while others can’t afford to buy meat or chicken anymore,
An estimated 6,000 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) have settled in the camp since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, joining Palestine refugees in Lebanon (PRL) who already face high levels of multigenerational poverty and vulnerability. As Lebanon plunges into deepened socio-economic crises, the residents of the camps find themselves straining to make ends meet.
The community kitchens established have delivered over 7,440 meals to over 70 families, in Ein el Hilwe and Bedawi., while providing income-generating jobs to women cooking meals for vulnerable families in the communities, and conducting outreach to families on how to cook nutritious meals on a budget.
Safa explained that this project changed her perspective on humanitarian assistance provided to the community. Previously, she thought that community only needs immediate financial assistance. Now, she realized that money on its own would not solve everything, her surroundings needed solidarity and equal opportunities. “People needed someone to listen to them, a voice to carry their messages, and a hand to help them. They need to live in dignity.”
Throughout the 4 months of project implementation, Initiate and WPA are enhancing women’s participation in economic development through activities, lectures, and seminars that encourage women’s sustainable development in their society, they also work to empower local communities and to advocate for equal rights and a better future for all.
Aside from the tasks and roles Safa acquired in the community kitchen, Safa explains: “I found my passion working in the community kitchen. I used to have social anxiety; afraid of speaking to people and anxious around those I don’t know. Today, I am changing to a better version of myself. I am building confidence which allows me to feel stronger and help others with their problems. The program has also helped me become financially stable during this period and that’s an important thing to me. I realized that I need to push myself out of my comfort zone to deal with what is happening around me.”
Safa wished for the continuity of the project, expressing that many families cannot put food on their tables in this harsh economic situation. “Our community needs us more than before, and we need to keep working and provide our best efforts to help everyone.”