Unlike most aid organizations that work with refugees, which often focus on emergency relief that caters to survival, Lebanese NGO Basmeh and Zeitooneh believes in something more – development that empowers.
Basmeh and Zeitooneh, which was established in Beirut by Syrian expats in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, works on nurturing the Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon and Turkey by providing services that allow them to live with dignity, instead of as victims.
The organization has set up a number of community centers in camps where the most marginalized Syrian refugees live. These centers provide literacy and vocational training, psycho-social support, employment opportunities and schooling and peace education for children, in addition to relief services and medical assistance.
In 2014 alone, its second year of operation, the organization helped nearly 22,000 people across Lebanon. It now has six centers in Lebanon and two in Turkey. Furthermore, the organization employs 110 refugees full time, as well as 165 women who are making a living by producing textiles and other crafts through Zeitooneh's workshops for women.
Zeitooneh's community centers and development programs have become cornerstones of empowerment for the communities they serve, making real a difference. Zeitooneh, which previously used crowdfunding to help keep five major programs running, is now crowdfunding to support three other crucial programs that currently lack funding.
Each of the programs – Relief, Small Grants and the Arts and Cultural Center – focuses on "a particular area of the journey that many refugees find themselves part of, from economic and social isolation, to active participation in their community," according to Zeitooneh's Zoomal campaign titled "For the Journey."
"This journey starts from the provision of basic assistance for the most acutely vulnerable, continuing on to the facilitation of economic independence, and finally the reduction of social isolation."
Relief is aimed at helping the most vulnerable families meet their basic needs by providing food and rent assistance. The Arts and Cultural Center is aimed at reducing social isolation in vulnerable communities by providing a place where community members can have opportunities for unleashing self-expression and creativity.
Small Grants however, is aimed at providing training in small business management and start-up grants in order to help individuals launch their own small businesses to gain economic independence.
"First there is a two-month training course in which they take courses in management and finance, after that each trainee submits a proposal for a small business and then we award grants to successful applications," Beirut area manager Abed Mubayad said, in the crowdfunding message.
"What's special about Basmeh and Zeitooneh is that we don't get to a certain point and then stop, it's for this reason that in the next cycle we are going to research what kinds of businesses people would like to open and then set up tailor-made trainings for them."
The three programs, like all of Zeitooneh's initiatives, aim to not just provide short-term solutions for Syrian refugees like most international aid organizations do, but to help them on a journey to build a life they can be proud of.