Rasha Yassin, right) speaks to a visitor during an exhibition of the “Generation of Innovation Leaders” project in Lebanon. © 2019 UNRWA Photo
Hundreds of Palestinian refugees sheltered across the Lebanese territories have been seeking opportunities to launch a career amid wide socio-economic challenges facing the Middle Eastern country.
The story of Rasha Yassin, a young Palestine refugee from northern Lebanon, serves as an example of how Palestinians continue to pull out all the stops in order to turn their traumatic past into a space of creativity.
Rasha has started her own project, turning frayed and chipped wood into unexpected bold, pop colors paired with classic silhouettes and traditional fabrics.
For Rasha, it is literally a dream coming true. “I studied Graphic Design at the International Lebanese University but being a Palestine refugee, we face a big challenge to try to find jobs in Lebanon. The lack of future prospects, particularly for young people, often results in hopelessness.”
The big reversal came when Rasha joined the pioneering UNRWA Innovation Lab in Nahr el-Bared Palestine refugee camp, which aims to address and alleviate some of the widespread frustration and lack of opportunity faced by Palestine refugee youth in Lebanon. As part of the social entrepreneurship training at the Innovation Lab, Rasha qualified for seed money of up to US$ 2,000, which she put towards realizing her dream.
“I was always thinking about how to overcome the challenge of employment. UNRWA’s Innovation Lab in Nahr el-Bared Palestine refugee camp and the GILProject (Generation of Innovation Leaders) enabled me to transform my idea from a project into a business - Platfurn,” she told UNRWA. “Through my business, discarded furniture is transformed into stylish, refurbished pieces. The training I received provided me with important skills, including dealing with craftsmen and painters who carry out the work, and to focus on producing unique and artistic pieces”, added Rasha.
Part of the UNRWA Youth Strategy, and in line with UNICEF’s countrywide Generation of Innovation Leaders program, the Innovation Labs aim to upskill youth in the use of new technologies and build their capacity to think critically about market needs and trends. At the labs, youth are motivated to develop strong business ideas that can have impact on their wider community.
Sarah Shouman, the head of the UNRWA Youth Unit in Lebanon, explains: “The Innovation Labs offer professional readiness and employability training courses. It is a platform to transfer to youth digital, design and web competencies. Youth in this program can come up with new, innovative ideas which they can then convert into a real project to generate income from.”
“The rationale behind the program is to provide further opportunity for Palestine refugee youth in Lebanon to escape from their current poverty trap by becoming skilled in new technologies and acquiring knowledge on how to channel good ideas into business opportunities”, she said. “Self-employment enables refugee youth to overcome the legal barriers they confront in more traditional labor market sectors in Lebanon.”
According to UNRWA’s database, nearly half of all Palestine refugees in Lebanon are under 25 years old. Many face a chronic lack of livelihood opportunities, poverty and live in an environment with much insecurity. Refugee access to basic human rights is limited in Lebanon – in particular with regard to the right to work: they remain barred from practicing in 39 professions, including as medical doctors, engineers or lawyers. Political protests and deteriorating economic circumstances have further worsened the refugee plight, and Palestine refugees currently face increasing rates of poverty and socio-economic hardship.”
“I am still in the early stages,” said Rasha, “but my business has allowed me to earn some income. I feel independent and have started to help support my family. Through this work, it became easier for me to get the perfect definition of who I am. It gives me a sense of stability, confidence, social interaction and joy of being independent.”