As we made our way to ULYP’s campus in Dibbiyeh for my first day volunteering with HAPPY, I realized that I had no idea what to expect or whether the few words of Arabic I had mastered would actually get me through my first day of preschool. By the time we arrived on campus, I was beset with questions like: What if no one likes me? What if I do something embarrassing? What if I forget the Arabic words I learned?
With my anxiety rising, I nervously entered the classroom only to see 25 children’s faces all laden with the very same expression as mine. As each of us looked around the room, recognizing ourselves in one another, we became united and I started to notice courage replacing the looks of doubt. I sensed the eager excitement in the room growing as the nervousness slowly disappeared, and before I knew it, as we all joined hands to sing the hokey-pokey. Any worries I had before were replaced by feelings of opportunity and hope.
Now, I wake up every morning confident that it will be another HAPPY day, motivated by the smiles on the children’s faces as they have fun learning and exploring. I am halfway through my time volunteering on ULYP’s HAPPY Program, yet I already find myself struggling to imagine returning to my ‘pre-HAPPY’ life in the UK.
The recent months have been filled with awards and recognition of ULYP’s practice. These act as significant validation that ULYP’s mission statement and methodology are well intertwined and that our interventions are valuable, effective and appropriate.
“Receiving the TAKREEM Special Distinction Award… means you agree that doors need to be open to all underserved and that respect has to be expanded to the marginalized, but most importantly that everyone should have the right to education” said Melek El Nimer, ULYP Founder, on receiving the award this November.
Melek El Nimer received three special awards and distinctions this fall for her humanitarian work and impact at ULYP. In the name of ULYP, Melek was awarded the Outstanding Humanitarian Award by the Arab American Association, the Outstanding Efforts “For Humanity” Award at the 8th Bosphorus Summit and the TAKREEM Special Distinction Award for continuing to play “a key role in shaping a better perception of Arabs worldwide and in inspiring present and future generations.”
“Childhood belongs to children and it is our responsibility to make sure every child, including the marginalized and refugees, lives her and his childhood.” This is how Nicole Eid Abuhaydar, ULYP Executive Director, concluded her talk at the Arab Conference at Harvard in November. Nicole sat on the ‘Empowering the Next Generation’ panel at Harvard, disseminating the best practices of ULYP’s HAPPY program and suggesting ways to take this program to scale.
While in Boston, Nicole also addressed students of the Peace and Justice Studies Department at Wellesley College. She spoke about her personal journey with education, how she leverages education for social development and the models of intervention implemented at ULYP. “Schools and universities are not enough to meet the growing needs of society. There are too many underserved and working children, unemployed youth and disempowered women.” She encouraged the Wellesley students to ask the right questions when looking for solutions “You are the future, and you can make a difference starting today!”
Such recognition and opportunities to spread our message are humbling to receive and we are increasingly inspired and motivated to expand our reach and impact into the new year.
If technology is not just the way of the future but of the present, it is crucial that youth and women in Lebanon have the opportunity to gain the skills needed succeed in today’s innovative economy. Maharat, funded by Microsoft Lebanon, creates this opportunity by providing trainings in computer basics, digital literacy, coding, entrepreneurship and social media. ULYP has provided customized Maharat trainings in coding to 150 youth and has also provided the opportunity for 60 women to engage in a full six-week program of computer basics, digital literacy, entrepreneurship and social media.
Our Bridge graduates continue to amaze us with their talent, drive and passion. After graduating from Lebanese American University (LAU) in 2016 with a BA in Communication Arts, Awad, recipient of a scholarship from the Bridge Program, directed and produced “Ayoube”, a play that was shown at Metro Al Madina in Hamra, Beirut over the summer.
The play highlights the struggles of Palestinian women in refugee camps in Lebanon, inspired by the stories Awad was told by his grandmother, Ayoube. The play tells the story of her struggle to survive and raise her children without compromising their education and well-being.
The play was well received and was such a success that the team was requested to perform twelve more shows in Metro Al Madina and one in Saida. There is no doubt that Awad’s creativity and vision will fuel many more minds and hearts! We can’t wait to see what Awad’s future holds.
Bags unpacked, new friendships formed and exams around the corner – 131 Bridge students are nearing the end of their first semester at 31 universities in 10 countries. This new phase in their journey as Bridge students is off to a good start and ULYP is proud of them.
This journey is just about to begin for the next cohort of Bridge University Scholarship Program students. The ULYP team has been visiting schools and university fairs across Lebanon to reach out to qualified and deserving students. We have met driven and passionate students aspiring to continue their education. ULYP can’t wait for them to apply, begin their Bridge journey and grow and develop into the students and people they should have the opportunity to be.
“English is the universal language; it is necessary to learn, and two years ago I did not know any of it, not even the letters. Because of ULYP I learned English. I learned how to introduce my self and how to get to know others. In the last two years I attended two programs at ULYP, MOMs and Maharat. During the programs, I attended several workshops about personal well-being. I also learned about entrepreneurship during the Maharat program with Microsoft and ULYP. I recognize that the lectures have increased my awareness and understanding on the psychological and social level. They also prepared me for the responsibilities of being a great housewife, and how to be an ideal mother.
The programs also taught me that I can follow my dream of becoming a journalist while being a mother.
Thank you ULYP for everything. Thank you for embracing me and holding my hand through difficult times. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to extend my education.”
As ULYP grows to meet the needs of Lebanon’s youth, we are excited to announce the inauguration of our new preschool in Dibbiyeh on December 19, 2017. The new space allows ULYP to accommodate two classes at a time of 25 students, their teachers and parents for HAPPY. This means double the learning and double the joy!
ULYP is thankful for the generous support of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), Taawon Lebanon and Give a Child a Toy that made building and equipping the new preschool possible.
It has been over three months since I started my internship at ULYP. I was tasked to join the Rainbow program, in which Syrian refugee children are reminded of the colors of the Rainbow they hold within through bringing them the ray of light, in the form of education, to bring it out. Rainbow’s special approach is structured in a way that it helps with the healing process for trauma many of them experienced before coming to Lebanon.
My experience with RAINBOW has taught me how programs such as these are not just key for the development of children that have had a big part of their childhood scarred by conflict. They are also providing them with intellectual tools and skills that will be very useful as individuals, students and community members, which in turn makes many of these children grow into potential active agents of change now and always.
Coming from Mexico myself, a country that is currently facing complex social, political and economic challenges, similar to the ones Lebanon is facing, my time in Lebanon and particularly my time with ULYP has been an eye-opener. It has made me realize, among many things, that although there is a huge distance between the two countries and there are several differences, Arab and Latin American countries still share many similarities. This in turn has provided me with a fresh perspective to understand better the situation in my country and inspired me as well as equipped me with tools of change I can implement there and everywhere.
Through my time as an intern at ULYP, I had the opportunity to experience a lot of different facets of the Lebanese society, learn first-hand about NGO operations, discover the country itself and meet inspiring and motivational students.
I spent most of my time engaged with the Rainbow Beirut program, where I developed special relationships with the students through teaching and assisting in class. Rainbow taught me various invaluable lessons, but one that stood out was learning specific educational coping mechanisms when working with children who suffer from trauma. Through creative activities such as painting and engaging the students in interactive and participatory English classes tailored to individual needs, I saw firsthand how a supportive learning environment can mitigate students’ potential issues related to trauma.
My other responsibilities included working at ULYP’s office, where I have supported the organization and coordination of different programs. Through the variety of work I have been involved in during my time here, I gained an invaluable and personal understanding of the intricacies of NGO work. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I have been given here at ULYP.