This summer, we were again lucky to host volunteers from the DukeEngage program in North Carolina. Ten enthusiastic, reliable and devoted volunteers joined our own local volunteers and together they implemented Bridge’s first component, the University Preparatory Course (UPC). UPC works with the top 150 Palestinian students enrolled in UNRWA secondary schools in Lebanon. These students, in the summer before 11th grade, engage in SAT prep and receive college and career guidance as part of UPC. We were pleased that some of the volunteers were of Middle Eastern roots. Hopefully, their volunteering experience helped them better understand their identities and more importantly, the untold stories of Middle Eastern aspiration and potential. On our behalf, we can assure that their counseling efforts left a memorable impact on the UPC students.
As a result of the long-term collaboration between ULYP and DukeEngage, a former UPC student, Nour Kanaan, will be joining Duke University this fall. We are incredibly thankful to the previous DukeEngagers, and specifically Jake McCarthy, who guided her during the application process. We are proud of this lasting partnership and look forward to collaborating with future cohorts!
“Hello Teacher!” I hear as we’re setting up the classroom; students arriving early, ready to learn, laugh and challenge themselves in another day’s lesson. For the past three months, I have volunteered with the SHARE and LIFE programs. I have grown and learnt so much about myself, while also watching our students learn and grow every day. The classroom is a place where our students can laugh and joke, but also a place for them to work together to develop new skills. Covering topics from bullying, and how to deal with stressful situations, to ecosystems and natural habitats, ULYP’s students are eager to challenge themselves and gain new knowledge.
Every day is different, some days more challenging than others, but great colleagues are always there for support and encouragement. Our students never fail to remind us that the work we are doing is important and meaningful. From a simple, “Thank you,” at the end of a class, to, “We will miss you so much,” at the end of a semester, they are not shy to show us their gratitude. For me, the biggest breakthrough is seeing those who were quiet and nervous in the beginning, now feeling comfortable and eager to participate and help their fellow classmates. During my time with ULYP I have gained valuable new skills and confidence, allowing me to become a better teacher. I have had the opportunity to work with hardworking, creative and caring colleagues, who have motivated and inspired me every day. Most importantly, I have learnt that ULYP’s work is important and necessary for spreading hope, positivity and change.
Are you doing your spring cleaning and looking for a place to donate some of your things?
While our caring coats campaign is over now, we continue to collect clothes donations through our new partnership with FabricAid. ULYP now is one of the first organizations to join hands with FabricAid and houses one of their blue collection bins. For every kilogram of clothing we collect, we get $0.50 that we will put towards growing our pool of beneficiaries. The initial amount collected will go towards the HAPPY program to help more children enter schools with a strong foundation. Through this partnership, we will also be part of FabricAid’s network and benefit from other donations as they materialize.
Bring your clothing donations to ULYP and we will put them in the blue bin. Once the bin is full, FabricAid will proceed with pick up and our beneficiaries will feel the impact.
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.
Since the very first time I set foot in Lebanon, a few years ago, I knew that this amazing country was a place where I had to live. That was the reason why I looked to Lebanon when it was time for me to do an internship as a part of my studies in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at Uppsala University in Sweden.
The first time I heard about ULYP was before I even travelled to Lebanon. A friend of mine told me about this organization and all its important work with children and youth. The second time I heard about it was one of my first nights in Lebanon when I met a girl who volunteered in one of ULYP’s programs. After that, all of a sudden, it seemed that everywhere I turned people where talking about this rather small organization and their amazing work. I did not meet a single person with a bad thing to say about ULYP. It was impossible to not be interested in their work and I ended up applying for an internship there.
When I think back of my time at ULYP, there is one word that directly pops into my mind; happy. HAPPY was not only the name of the program I volunteered in, but it is also the perfect way to describe the children in the program, as well as the feeling I had during my whole stay in Lebanon interning at ULYP. I have worked a lot with children in the past, but the happiness these children showed me was something I had never seen before. From the very first day in the program the children managed to meet every activity with a genuine enthusiasm. It was clear to me that these children were deeply happy to attend the program and to be able to participate in activities on ULYP’s campus. To be a part of giving these children that feeling of happiness is priceless. That also made me genuinely happy.
After meeting these children it did not take me long to understand why so many people were talking about ULYP. ULYP’s work makes a difference for the children! And all of a sudden, I was one of those people talking enthusiastically about ULYP’s work to people I met.
The first time I came to Beirut was on a short trip in January 2014 out of my bizarre attitude as a political science student to visit areas with a high level of political conflict.
Beirut welcomed me with its everyday charm: sunny, humid, loud, chaotic, and mysterious. For the first two days I wandered around during the day, went out at night, and tried to figure out what this place and its people are about. On day three I was more puzzled about this city than ever before. That was when I met Mrs. Melek el Nimer- my friend’s mother who worked with an NGO. Melek picked me up and quickly briefed me on ULYP and the plans for the day. Soon I realized that Melek was not only working with ULYP, she is the heart of this NGO.
We drove out of Beirut to “the campus”. I had no clue what to expect and got more and more excited the further behind we left the busy streets of Beirut.
When we arrived I was overwhelmed by what I saw: green grass, wide view over the hills and clear, fresh air. I felt secure and calm, still in an unfamiliar place but one that makes you feel comfortable within the first seconds. I took a tour of the campus and learned more about ULYP and the projects they are running. Some teenage girls were finishing class – smiley, cheerful and relaxed. I realized it was not only me who felt special in this place: the ULYP Island.
This moment convinced me that I had to get involved with ULYP. The perfect place they hold their projects, the people running ULYP and especially the happy girls I met that day made me come back a year later to do an internship. After two months at ULYP I feel even more like it is a safe island, whether you work in the office with the dynamic and warm team or together with the children and youth on their programs. I am so glad and thankful I had the opportunity to work with these wonderful people and to experience what Lebanon is really about: its diversity and chaos and the people who are not giving up on it.
It’s early morning and I’m sitting on one of the petite chairs in ULYP’s pre-school, when the bus arrives. Suddenly I’m surrounded by a group of shy, but excited-looking five year olds. It’s my first day of working with the HAPPY program and I feel exactly the same combination of shyness and excitement, except that I’m disguising it with a big smile, trying to make the children feel at home.
When I applied for an internship at ULYP, as part of my Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies in Amsterdam, I said I would like to be mostly involved in office work. To me that seemed to be the place where I could learn the most, and be of most use. However, what I discovered is that to make sense of things like proposal writing and program planning, it’s good to know what goes on in the field, as the ULYP leadership team advised. Accordingly, I volunteered with HAPPY, ACT, and SAWA, and so I was able to learn a lot about what ULYP actually is doing, how a program is implemented, the different children who come to our campus, and how passionately the teachers are involved.
Working for ULYP means being surrounded with idealistic, passionate and strong people, who make the office and the campus an inspiring place to work. I am happy to be able to continue with ULYP for a little while longer and I look forward to the coming months.
As part of the BRIDGE program, four volunteers from Duke University, USA, made the long trip to ULYP’s Dibbiyeh campus where they organized a university preparation course for 29 students—a mixed group of Lebanese and Palestinians. Students were immersed in full-time study for one month, taking classes covering English, math, SAT exam techniques and conflict resolution. One of the four volunteers, Rachel Kiner, tells about their experience:
Our 2 months at the ULYP office proved to be much greater than the 2 month long assignment to teach SAT prep that we were expecting. Our small group of Duke students arrived with the intentions of improving SAT scores and promoting cultural tolerance to Palestinian and Lebanese high school students.
We found that not only were we able to assist a great deal in improving our students’ scores (an average of 200-300 points), but also that the challenge of teaching an English based test to ESL students would have a greater presence in our work than expected. I aimed to turn this challenge into an advantage and began practicing my Arabic on the board during breaks. This simple gesture opened up doors like I never expected. By showing a little bit of interest in my students outside of the job I was there to do, our relationship in the classroom became much more collaborative.
In their eyes I was no longer just an older, more experienced foreigner sent there to help them. We were partners, and they enjoyed teaching me Arabic as much as they appreciated learning SAT test-taking strategies.
Although the other teachers and I were elated by the score improvement, those numbers meant so much more than simply 2 months of hard work at ULYP. To us, and to our students, it meant opening the door to a better life.
We asked Etta, a current intern from Holland, to share with us her experience so far of Lebanon and ULYP.
“I came to Lebanon in August 2013 after completing my BA in History in Amsterdam to continue my studies at AUB as a graduate student at CAMES. My first five months here were difficult. I had been wanting to study the Middle East and at the same time experience the culture and people first hand, but I didn’t manage to achieve this through a university degree. I didn’t learn as much about Lebanon and its people as I had hoped and I wanted to be more active, more involved and to contribute to a cause I truly believed in.
That is when I heard about ULYP. Previously having directed a summer camp through CISV, which aims to create global friendship by bringing children together from all over the world, teaching them respect and mutual understanding, I was sold the moment I read about ULYP’s work and their mission to do the same for the different isolated communities in Lebanon. I was very happy to be accepted as a volunteer at ULYP and started with them in February. Over the last couple of months I have not only worked in the office, helping with administration, the implementation of programs, and grant applications, but I have also worked at ULYP’s campus in Dibbiyeh, helping out at the HAPPY program with a lovely group of Palestinian 5 year-olds.
The warm, friendly and inclusive character of the office and the countless opportunities ULYP have given me to develop my skills and talents, allowing me to improve and grow as a person, has led to occasion accidental references to the office as ‘home’. Hopefully I will be able to stay with ULYP a lot longer and I will truly miss and never forget my colleagues and all the students after I leave.”