Empowering youth and promoting social inclusion in Lebanon
A journey of resilience and perseverance
The story of Hassan Khazaal is one of resilience and perseverance to discover ones capacities and delve into a long journey of change and self-development. Today, the 27-year-old youth leader from Tibnin in south Lebanon, 120 km away from the capital city of Beirut, sits in a relatively small office of a youth NGO – Tibnin AL Ghad (Tomorrow’s Tibnin) – which he currently presides.
“It all dates back to the year 2000 when I first heard about a UNDP supported initiative in south Lebanon to empower youth and promote social inclusion among them,” Hassan speaks proudly about his 10-year endeavour in self-growth and development and how he is now unleashing what he had learnt in favour of other youth.
“Meeting up with youth of other towns and villages was exciting, and perhaps the primary reason behind joining the programme and becoming a member of the youth groups that UNDP supported their formation”.
The youth of south Lebanon have long suffered the repercussions of an increasingly volatile situation that lasted for over two decades. “Because of that instability, we used to spend most of our times within the borders of our villages and rarely did we interact with other peers of neighbouring villages,” said Hassan.
Shortly after Hassan joined the Tibnin youth group, his eagerness and perhaps innate leadership made him stand out and soon he was assigned to liaise between UNDP and members of his group on upcoming meetings and activities. What first started as an assemble of 15 youth, soon became one of the largest and most active youth groups in south Lebanon, comprising 100 youth – 60 females and 40 males.
The meetings facilitated by UNDP brought together youth of different villages, and Hassan always showed a particular interest in community work and development. He was known as a remarkable listener and whatever he said was met reciprocally by his peers who listened to his views, and concerns. “Those meetings helped resolve our differences; it drew us closer to each other whether through engaging in dialogue, or exchanging ideas and opinions about various development issues and upcoming activities,” Hassan explained.
The UNDP efforts towards shortening the social gaps among youth at national level were soon extended to regional and global levels. Hassan and his friends participated in sports for development and peace camp in Jordan and travelled to Italy in an initiative supported by UNDP-ART GOLD Project to document a short movie featuring Lebanese and Italian youngsters. “I will never forget this experience. I had the chance to meet new people and make many friends, all of whom I’m still in contact with.”
UNDP supported the establishment of some 32 youth groups in south Lebanon, the majority of which remains active until today. Members of these groups took part in the planning and implementation of hundreds of social activities within their regions. But more so, those youth received trainings on various issues and had their skills and capacities built. “The summer training camps and workshops we attended on conflict resolution, team building, leadership skills, in addition to project proposal planning, writing and management skills - all have considerably contributed to what we are today,” said Hassan.
Now, ten years later, Hassan is a trained youth and community worker who is providing training to other youngsters and engaging them in local initiatives.
In 2011, Hassan and his youth friends decided to legalize their status by forming an NGO, Tomorrow’s Tibnin, which UNDP through its project ART GOLD facilitated its registration. The NGO’s primary objective is to support the empowerment of youth in south Lebanon. “Through an NGO we are better able to mobilize resources in support of youth issues,” Hassan explained.
“Tomorrow’s Tibnin has achieved a lot since it started,” Hassan said. “Last year we submitted a project proposal for youth empowerment of five neighbouring villages totalling USD136,000, and the proposals were approved by one of the leading development agencies. Through this project we are reaching out to 100 male and female youth helping them develop their capacities and empower them to take an active role in the local development of their region.”
The challenges facing youth are still ahead, and according to Hassan, so much still needs to be done. As part of its comprehensive approach to youth empowerment, “Tomorrow’s Tibnin”, Hassan explained, partners with a strong network of local partners including NGOs, associations, civil society organizations as well as local authorities. “What I learnt most during my trainings with UNDP was the importance of collaboration and collective efforts to reach sustainable development,” Hassan concluded with a smile.