Together for peace with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon

“I have gained my neighbourhood’s trust,” Maha Tilawi says with a smile.

Maha is from Homs in Syria. The conflict in her home country forced her to leave her home and seek refuge in neighbouring Jordan. The 51-year-old tailor lost one of her sons in the war and is now the sole provider for her family of eight.

In the beginning, Maha recalls, she was nervous about being accepted by the Jordanian community. But with 35 years of experience in tailoring, she knew she had something to offer. She joined a skills exchange programme to help young Jordanian women learn the trade.

“When I first joined the training, I was very nervous about dealing with Jordanians due to some negative past experiences, but a few days later I started to make friends,” she says.

Al-Zeina (right) and her Syrian mentor, Maha, have become close friends

Through the programme, experienced Syrian refugees train young Jordanian women and men, strengthening their skills and employability. Through this personal interaction and knowledge sharing, prejudice and fear give way to business relationships and friendship.

“The project has helped me gain the neighbourhood’s trust,” Maha says. “No one came to me for tailoring jobs before, but after they heard about my participation in UNDP’s skills exchange project as a mentor, they started to approach me for complicated tailoring jobs.”

She is not only teaching but also learning through the programme, brushing up on her own technical skills in the process.

Al-Zeina Salem is Maha’s mentee. A Jordanian woman in her early twenties, she is passionate about fashion, and her dream is “to expand our one-door shop into two”. The tailoring shop was made possible by the financial incentives Zeina and her partner received for their participation in the project.

Zeina is determined to continue working with her mentor. “I will never let go of Maha, she has so much experience and besides, we’re very good friends now.”

Islam (right) about her experience with the skills exchange: “We became one family”.

Islam Zu’bi is another Jordanian mentee in the skills exchange project. “All the Syrian trainers were very cooperative,” she says. “Whenever my mentor was busy, everyone else was ready to help me.”

“We became one family, there was no Jordanian and Syrian, we were one,” Islam says.

As of August 2017, Jordan hosted more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees. The skills exchange between Jordanians and Syrian refugees in Mafraq and Irbid Governorates is funded by the Government of Japan and the European Union in collaboration with the World Food Programme and the National Microfinance Bank. To implement the project’s activities, UNDP works with Jordanian partners Business Development Center, Al Quds College and Migrate.

A scene from the play “We Stay Together”, which depicts how Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities can live together peacefully

In Lebanon, Lebanese and Syrian youth also stand together for peace: The Peacebuilding in Lebanon project has supported them to rehearse and perform theatre together, articulating a vision of peaceful coexistence and providing a space for dialogue.

Ola, one Syrian participant in the play “We Stay Together (Maa’an Nabka)”, explains: “This play has many goals: to elicit empathy with ‘the other’ from the viewers and to show the situation of the Syrian displaced and the Lebanese host communities. During the rehearsals, we learned a lot from and about each other. All the misconceptions were gone, and our behaviour has become more positive towards each other.”

The play is touring in Lebanon’s West Bekaa region and had its premiere in Ghazzeh, attracting more than 700 spectators. It is estimated that more than 500,000 people live in this region; almost half of them are Lebanese, while the rest are mainly refugees from Syria, Lebanese returnees and Palestinian refugees.

The whole process of producing the play was made possible by the newly established NGO “Darb El Salam” (Pathway to Peace). This NGO is the result of the joint efforts of local actors and the Mechanisms for Social Stability process implemented by UNDP and funded by the KfW Development Bank.

Ali Bitar, the director of the play, says it reflects the reality in the villages of West Bekaa. “We are trying to promote peaceful coexistence despite the crisis,” he says.

“We will live together, accept each other, and share the good and the bad.”