Omar recounts how the refugee community was when he first arrived in Lebanon. “There was no structure to organise our communities,” he says. “Everyone managed the way they could, thinking we would not stay here for long. This wasn’t always good for the community as a whole.”
Life in an informal tented settlement
For many Syrian refugees in this tented settlement on the outskirts of the northern city of Tripoli, this has been their only home for years. There are few indications that they can return to Syria any time soon. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) works in these informal settlements, helping the refugees here to identify and resolve community issues alongside the local Lebanese communities hosting them. Through our programmes, it’s the residents who are shaping the humanitarian assistance that affects their lives.
The community meeting where Omar is speaking has been called to resolve a number of issues that the settlement’s residents are facing. It takes place in a tent, reached by a simple path weaving its way through an olive grove. A group of barefoot children giggle from the doorway and tea brews on the stove while Omar talks. Outside, a dog pulls at a chain. Chickens cluck on the corrugated iron roof and large dishes of red peppers dry in the sun to make the Syrian specialty, mahkdous: aubergines stuffed with red peppers and walnuts.
An organic solution
With support from NRC’s Community Management and Coordination (CMC) programme, a committee was established and Omar was elected to be the community representative. Rolling prayer beads between his fingers, he explains how he met with the Lebanese host community to better understand their concerns, complaints and reactions. He also met with other organisations working in the tented settlements to gain support for his campaign.
Omar then discussed the problem with the refugees themselves and together they reached a solution. He went from tent to tent, collecting money from each family, and asked for volunteers to clean the riverbed. The volunteers were paid with the collected money.
“It was a simple solution with amazing results,” Omar explains humbly. “Together, we reduced the tensions with our neighbours and addressed a potential health hazard. The community united to address a shared problem.”
Evolving into a humanitarian response
Following discussions with other organisations – a key condition in our Community Management and Coordination approach – a coordinated response to support the refugee community was established. Solidarité International provided rubbish bags and gloves for the cleaning campaign. Another agency distributed waste collection barrels and, through a community support project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), NRC provided a municipal waste collection truck to collect waste on a weekly basis.
The waste collection truck will increase the municipality’s capacity to collect solid waste in the village as well as in and around neighbouring informal tented settlements.
Nur Arab, NRC’s Community Management and Coordination project manager in northern Lebanon, explains how the project adds value to the humanitarian response. In short: it ensures a coordinated and integrated approach.
“The project makes it possible for community representatives and refugees to find solutions for problems that concern them,” she says.
And for those at the centre like Omar, seeking to bring the neighbours and community together only makes his negation and mediation skills grow stronger.
- The project in Tripoli aims to find solutions for both informal settlements and neighbourhoods affected by displacement.
- It also looks for needs and gaps, and might find people who need help though one of the other programmes that NRC is running.
- Our camp management teams work to coordinate and follow up on assistance and protection for these people.
- They also set up ways for the community to take part in decision-making and information sharing.