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French Version

From a science lab to a waste dump: EU funds multiple initiatives in Baalbek region

Rashid al-Hajj, director Al-Qastal Secondary School at the Jalil Palestinian refugee camp in Baalbek, proudly opened the door to the institution's new science lab Friday.

The facility contains everything that one would expect to find in a modern science lab: chemicals for experiments locked behind clean glass-doored cabinets, body-part models to study the human anatomy, a large table with tubes and beakers for chemistry and physics experiments, and tables arranged so that every student can easily see what the teacher writes on the blackboard. Only the gas for the Bunsen burners is still missing.

But Hajj was not opening his school for his students, who are normally out of class on Fridays. Rather, he and his colleges welcomed the people who made the modern laboratory - as well as a recreation room equipped with musical instruments and a new generator - possible. Patrick Laurent, head of the European Commission delegation to Lebanon, accompanied by staff members and journalists, personally visited Al-Qastal and other EU-financed project sites.

Al-Qastal, as well as the Tiberias Primary School next-door, are both beneficiaries of a 15-million euro ($20 million) project financed by the European Union as part of implementing the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

The main goal of the project, run by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) in several different camps, is to enhance the employment opportunities of Palestinians living in Lebanon and to equip young Palestinians with the necessary skills to find employment. Creating "equal opportunities" for Palestinians is the key element of the work, one of the project managers explained.

Another important goal of the project is to improve education for students with special needs, who are in danger of dropping out of school. The funds allow disadvantaged students to have the opportunity to be taught one-on-one or in small groups by specially trained teachers.

"It should be everyone's mission to provide opportunities for adults with development disabilities to grow to the best of their ability through education, employment and community integration," reads a cardboard sign posted in one of the classrooms.

Education also plays an important role in the second project Laurent visited: Since 2006, the European Commission has financed a project to improve reproductive health and wellbeing in six Palestinian refugee camps, targeting mainly youths between the ages of 10 and 24.

"We noticed a large gap between the actual cultural values here and the actual behavior of the youth," Marta Petagne, project manager told reporters.

"This gap leads to further problems for the youth, because they don't talk to their parents about these sensitive issues," she added.

"Talking about sex is a big taboo," explained Hisham, one of the project's fieldworkers at the Chatila Palestinian refugee camp. "And when the kids don't know what the problem is, they probably make mistakes."

The sexual education classes are conducted in teaching peer groups that include parents and deal with issues concerning sexuality, drugs and other societal matters.

The classes use the Moving Forward board game in which between four and six players have to move their "youngster" from childhood through a host of challenges until finally reaching adulthood. On the way, the players have to answer questions from cards asked by the game's moderator.

"Define the word 'respect,'" one of the players was asked during a small demonstration of the game to the ambassador.

"I profited a lot from the game because it deals with problems of society like drugs," said Ali, one of the students. "But the most important thing is that we talk about these issues with each other, among the players."

Moving Forward has so far been adopted by 32 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multilateral agencies, Petagne said. A Finnish group is working on introducing changes to the game to make it suitable for Kenyan society.

Three NGOs, the Lebanese Family Planning Association, the National Institute for Social Care and Vocational Training and the Italian Ricerca e Cooperazione, are involved in the 1.84 million euro project.

Another important accomplishment of the project was the creation of Young Person Advisory Centers in four of the camps to provide basic health and consulting services to young refugees.

"These centers are something very new, because they specifically target the youth," Petagne said. "There's always a psychologist and a social worker present at centers."

The project also saw the creation of a Web site, www.wellteens.org, where youth can anonymously ask questions concerning relationships, puberty and reproductive health.

Another initiative that is being carried out in Baalbek with the EU funds is a waste-management project.

"Due to the difficulties of administrative reform in Lebanon, we were looking for a way to use our funds to help the needs of population," Joseph Piazza d'Olmo, program manager, told The Daily Star.

"We found two ways," he added. "The first one was local development, the second one waste management."

Although the Lebanese government is aware of the waste management problem and the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) has conducted studies aimed at solving it, the implementation of such projects has been difficult. Local authorities have remained skeptical of government proposals on waste management.

"This is why we used a different approach," Piazza d'Olmo said. "We asked the local authorities to make proposals themselves, and not just for themselves, but in cooperation with other municipal authorities."

Two calls for proposals received many responses, Piazza d'Olmo said. He added that 17 of the proposals have been selected for a grant with a budget of about 14 million euros and will soon be implemented.

One of the proposals is to build a new site where the municipalities of Baalbek can get rid of their waste. The site, located far outside populated areas in a former Syrian military zone, will serve about 100,000 people from 15 municipalities.

Piazza d'Olmo saluted the way the Environment Ministry, the CDR and the various project managers had cooperated on the EU-funded projects. "This demonstrated that ministries can work together," he said.

Beirut 13-10-2008
The Daily Star

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