Resilient youth in Deir Ezzor are the arm for positive change


After three years of escalating conflict, Syria is still witnessing a deepening economic crisis, loss of livelihoods, and deteriorating coping mechanisms. In addition to poverty and economic disparity, there is a large proportion of youth who are unemployed and increasingly disillusioned.

Deir Ezzor, located in the North-East of Syria, is one of the most affected Governorates since the beginning of the crisis in 2011. Dedicated to restore the disrupted livelihoods of his city, Hassan Abboudi, a young Syrian citizen from Deir Ezzor and the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, saw the need to mobilize his local community.

Highlights

  • Deir Ezzor is composed of six neighbourhoods inhabited by 320,000 people, the majority of whom are youthe 2012, UNDP and UNHABITAT have combined their efforts to improve the living conditions of Palestinian gatherings across Lebanon.
  • As a result of the crisis, the local municipality lost 80% of its capacity to provide and sustain vital social services.
  • According to the Syrian Socio-economic Impact Report 2013, the unemployment rate reached 48% in the second quarter of 2013, while the national dropout rate from schools was estimated at 49%.
  • Over 70% of Deir Ezzor is destroyed. Approximately 60% of the agricultural sector is damaged, and livestock production, which constitutes 60% of the income of the agricultural sector, is lost.

“I am one of many young people in Deir Ezzor who are determined to revive the city and enable the community to survive the crisis and cope with its impact”, said Hassan. “Businesses are lost, the local market is disrupted and the rising unemployment tremendously affected the livelihoods of the residents, specifically youth. A large percent of the youth migrated from the city”.

The critical security situation also made access to education rather difficult. Over 70% of the city is inaccessible. The percentage of dropouts from schools and universities is very high since many schools are used to host internally displaced people. The faculties of Deir Ezzor University moved to secure areas and lost more than 50% of their students.

To address the impact of the escalating crisis and build resilience in affected communities, UNDP Syria developed quick impact projects, with focus on vulnerable groups including youth. The projects included labour intensive emergency employment for repairing basic community infrastructure and improving service delivery, in addition to restoring disrupted livelihoods, revival of small businesses, asset replacement, and vocational training.

“The local municipality was unable to provide regular solid waste removal services which led to health and environmental hazards,” Hassan elaborated. “This has jeopardized the wellbeing of the residents who were determined to stay in their city, albeit the difficult living conditions”.

The project implemented by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and UNDP was the entry point for Deir Ezzor youth.  It capitalized on their potential as positive agents of change. “I saw thousands of young people with capacities and willingness to support the project,” says Hassan.

“We have employed 320 workers mostly youth; the job opportunities enabled the beneficiaries to meet their basic needs and provide a dignified source of income to support their families” says Hassan

There is a long waiting list of people who are interested to join and the Chamber is mapping their capacities to approach UNDP with other initiatives. The objective is not only income generation but also the opportunity for youth to join and play a positive role in the society.

“We were shocked with the number of volunteers. We mobilized 400 young people and we have a long waiting list of interested youth,” says Hassan. “The volunteers range between 18 and 25 years of age and are mostly university students. Over 58% of the volunteers are women and there are 27 persons with disabilities”.

Sammaraa is one of the volunteers and is studying sociology in Deir Ezzor.  “I was so happy to join this initiative,” says Sammaraa who leads a group of young women volunteers that are supporting the municipality in collecting garbage and raising awareness. “We go door to door, and from one school to another in order to raise awareness on hygiene and spread the message of volunteerism”.

“We have changed the culture”, says Sammaraa. “We are the first women team to work on solid waste. The local community accepted us despite the social norms when they saw our dedication and commitment to clean our city”.

The volunteers were cleaning the streets that have become a major health hazard with mountains of garbage piled up especially around public shelters and health clinics. But most importantly, they reached out to others, particularly university students, so that they also understand that a clean city is their responsibility and not just the municipality’s.

“This initiative has become an opportunity for bringing neighbours together while encouraging young volunteers to continue their efforts to improve their community,” says Hassan.

“One of the most important achievements of this project was that it helped change the mind sets of people especially youth who took public services such as garbage collection for granted, but now they realize that they have to contribute and can mobilize local communities to address the impact of the crisis,” says Hassan.

The volunteers’ awareness activities reached almost 18,600 people, while the clean-up events helped so far to keep four neighbourhoods, with at least 83,500 residents, clean. “Youth are the key drivers for change”.