Strengthening the resilience of host communities of Syrian refugees

Young women who were hired to offer illiteracy classes and 105 young women trained in cooperation with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness on maternal and child health. UNDP Egypt/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, Egypt has been a destination for refugees with nearly half a million Syrians currently living in the country, out of which approximately 120,000 are registered with UNHCR. Syrians live among Egyptians in an integrated manner; they are mostly concentrated in urban areas particularly in Giza, Greater Cairo, Alexandria, Damietta and Qalyubia, with access to public services, resources and many of the local citizen privileges such as public health and education, which places additional pressure on these services.

Since 2015, the UN in Egypt, in cooperation with national partners, has been exerting efforts to respond to these needs of Syrian Refugees and host communities through the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP). Within this framework, and with the aim of alleviating pressure on host communities, the Enterprise Development Agency (Masharea Masr) and UNDP launched in October 2016 a public works (cash-for-work) programme in three host communities suffering from high poverty rates in Alexandria. In 2017, the project scope was further expanded to include two additional communities in Menoufia and Sharkia. The programme aims to create short-term jobs for young men and women from host communities in the field of social services (particularly health awareness, environmental awareness and waste management), which acts as a social protection mechanism while also improving services for both refugees and host communities. This programme builds on the MSME Agency and UNDP’s extensive experience since 2012 in implementing public works programmes, both in infrastructure and social services projects, in poor Egyptian villages.

Highlights

  • Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, Egypt has been a destination for refugees with nearly half a million Syrians currently living in the country, out of which approximately 120,000 are registered with UNHCR.
  • This programme builds on the Masharea Masr and UNDP’s extensive experience since 2012 in implementing public works programmes, both in infrastructure and social services projects, in poor Egyptian villages.
  • By end of 2017, the program is expected to create over 100,000 workdays for 500 young men and women in the five targeted host communities in Alexandria, Menoufia and Sharkia.

On 31 July 2017, a team from Masharea Masr and UNDP visited two of the target communities in Alexandria. On our first stop, we visited the Friends of the Environment NGO in Al Manshia District. To date, the NGO hired 10 young women who are trained by experts on a monthly basis to build their knowledge on different environment-related topics which are then communicated to members of the community through regular house visits.  Topics include ways to decrease consumption of water and electricity, the health hazards of garbage; using recyclable waste to create handicrafts. Two supervisors are also hired to coordinate the work.

During the visit, we got the chance to listen to four of the 10 young women who explained how much they benefitted from the knowledge they gained through their work, and how they are applying this knowledge in their homes and daily lives. They have become regarded as role models in their communities in addition to being financially independent which gives them a sense of empowerment. They also feel that they accumulated experience and skills that will help them in their careers following the completion of the project.  The handicrafts component also has the potential to open up new opportunities for income generation for community members.

The second component implemented by the NGO relates to garbage collection where 87 young men were hired to collect waste from families in addition four supervisors for coordination. As we talked with some of them, we could feel that they appreciated their job and the decent treatment they received from the homes they were visiting and which motivates them to continue their work. It was also great to see how the teams adapted their work to the needs of the community by scheduling several shifts for garbage collection during the day to accommodate the different preferences.

The NGO also seized every opportunity to maximize their impact on the community; they signed an agreement with a specialized company to help them get rid of the collected garbage. They also organized a marathon for 500 youth in partnership with the Alexandria Governorate on the occasion of the world environmental day to further raise awareness.

In total, the NGO has succeeded in reaching out to 2,500  families. Through our meetings, we learned that many of them became encouraged to register due to the positive change they have witnessed in their community.

For the second part of the day, we visited Kayan NGO in Borg Al Arab district where six young women were hired to offer illiteracy classes and 105 young women trained in cooperation with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness on maternal and child health. The team in charge of the health component covers a wide range of topics such as prenatal information for pregnant women, family planning, raising awareness against female genital mutilation to help combat the practice. The team also refers families to the relevant medical service providers; partnerships were established with local health care units and medical convoys for this purpose in order to maximize outreach to local communities.  As a result, more members of the community now visit these unites and benefit from their services.

Thanks to their excellent efforts, the team of young women reached out to 9,600 families. During our meeting with some of the team members, we learned that they have managed to establish strong ties with the community. This, they explained, allowed them to identify additional community needs and convey them to concerned entities when possible, such as the need for specific medical tests. They also found innovative ways to communicate with families such as whatsapp groups for information sharing.

Many of the families which benefit from these services are Syrian; the team of young women help them access medical services and secure basic supplies for children such as formula. Moreover, the support provided to Syrian families goes beyond the health component. For instance, efforts are exerted to connect Syrian families with other entities which can provide support whether financial, employment-related or educational.

At the end of the day, we were very pleased by the level of enthusiasm and dedication we felt from both NGOs and the corresponding project teams, and which was truly heartwarming. We were also very happy to witness firsthand the impact of the public works program on members of the community. On one hand, it contributed to improving services. Secondly, it created employment opportunities and therefore contributed to the economic empowerment of youth.  And thirdly, it equipped these youth with a set of skills that will help them in their future. In doing so, this intervention also helps enhance social cohesion and resilience of communities.

By end of 2017, the program is expected to create over 100,000 workdays for 500 young men and women in the five targeted host communities in Alexandria, Menoufia and Sharkia.

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