Dorcas Community Centres: Salvation in War

The total population of Lebanon has doubled in size since the war in Syria – where, today, Syrian refugees make up a third of the population. Despite escaping the escalating violence at home, peace and security are still a long way off for the Syrian people. And they are not alone. The deteriorating economic situation across Lebanon has created major tensions between host communities and vulnerable arrivals of also Palestinian and Iraqi origin.

In overcrowded refugee camps and troubled host communities, women and children face a number of acute threats to their safety and wellbeing including early marriage, forced labour and abduction. Parents stripped of their fundamental rights and in a constant state of limbo struggle to shield their children from such fates – leading to high rates of distress and feelings of hopelessness.

Today, more than eight months into Lebanon’s own crisis, the plight of the refugee population is more grave and complex than ever. Pressure to return home is rising, and, for those who do stay, the atmosphere is increasingly hostile. Vulnerable families, often headed by widows, face a daily battle to put food on the table – with fewer and fewer social safety nets.

A safe haven

Dorcas is working to shield Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees – especially women and children – from this harsh reality through our Community Centres inside Lebanon. Here, we provide a vital combination of practical care and psychosocial support to both the refugee and host population in order to stimulate joint recovery and rebuild the social fabric. 

One of the biggest challenges for new arrivals is the lack of time – and space – to process their experiences and begin to heal. Our community centres serve as a first entry point for refugees who have fled their homeland in neighbouring countries. Surrounded by a close-knit community at the centre, they are encouraged to share their experiences and seek support. Social workers are present 5 days a week and, through a case management process, coordinate safe and appropriate care. Once the initial intake and needs assessment has been conducted, individuals are referred to relevant support services. Psychosocial support, provided by trained psychologists, takes many forms – private counselling, group therapy and family sessions. We also offer legal aid to help people file a new case or protect those in conflict with the law. We offer a forum for women and girls from different backgrounds to learn about and identify the common threats they face – free from external rights abuses. With this new sense of empowerment and belonging, many go on to become powerful advocates for other vulnerable women within their community.

The healing process

“My story can help other Syrian women”, says Asmaa, a Syrian refugee and dedicated volunteer at the Dorcas Community Centre in Aley. “I find them and encourage them to come to the centre”, she explains. “A safe place where they can rest and get help.” Asmaa, who grew up in the midst of fear and violence in Syria, knows danger all too well. “When the war broke out, lots of girls in my hometown were abducted. My school closed its doors and I could no longer walk alone on the street in case I was attacked by snipers.” Many parents – fearing for their daughters’ safety – arranged for them to marry at a very young age. But Asmaa’s family had other ideas…

“We ran”, she says. “We fled the country. My brother made the decision.” When her and her family arrived in Aley, a bustling city in south east Lebanon, they struggled to settle in. Flashbacks of the violent events she had witnessed in Syria continued to haunt her. “I was scared and frustrated”, she explains. “Why was there war in my beautiful country?” She knows they made the right decision, but that doesn’t stop her from missing home. Several years later, Asmaa is beginning to process her past and find her place in a new environment. And with newfound strength and friendship at the centre, she’s resolute in her mission: “I try to reach the women that people don’t see, the girls that find themselves alone in this world. This is my duty, and I won’t let them down.”

Daring to dream

Through our practical support services and learning programmes, we also ensure that poor families can make ends meet and plan for a brighter future. “When I was young, my dream was to become a psychologist”, says Asmaa. “But it’s hard to do even the smallest of things as a refugee.” Through skills training we develop unique skillsets and prepare young people for work in sectors where there’s high demand. Our advocacy efforts also put pressure on governments to improve access to lawful work and open up job markets for the refugee population. We do all this with the goal to create global demand for refugee labour, products and services. We want to see refugees, who have often lived in Lebanon for many years, secure the right to own a business and make a meaningful contribution to the Lebanese economy.

In the meantime, by investing in innate talents, our programmes help young women like Asmaa begin to dream again. “I dream of children, my own family”, she explains. “And I think about how I would teach and protect them.” As for her parents… “My mother and father have changed their views on arranged marriage”, Asmaa continues. “They’re more on guard when a man proposes to me now.” “Where is he from? What does he do?”, she smiles. “These are the kind of questions they ask me. It means I’m allowed to meet him and consider a life with him.”

Dorcas operates two community centres in Lebanon, in the Batroun and and Aley districts. In 2019, we provided psychosocial therapy and practical support to XXX vulnerable women and youth at the centres.

Want to learn more about Dorcas Community Centres? Visit XXXX.

27 July 2020