The Lebanese ARU was built as a working group in the framework of the university’s Centre of Excellence for Research and Development. The Centre vision is to promote faculty and student research and the University’s research culture by increasing the visibility and the recognition of faculty and students, and by fostering an environment conducive to research and the creation of knowledge. In this sense, the work of the Centre was very instrumental to the establishment of the ARU, which became a tassel in the overall strategy of the university to increase the impact of research, strengthen and support interdisciplinarity and significantly improve the wide-range of services offered. With LIU dispersed in 9 geographic areas in Lebanon, it was easy for the university to get a wide and high number of stakeholders involved in the ARU establishment and working routine. The ARU members selected have strong relationships with the civil society and with their geographic area in the country. A key conceptual decision was the inception of key stakeholders who work directly with refugees, building on the work conducted in previous projects (i.e. RESCUE project and the R-SOS units).
Indeed, the Lebanese TAIS focuses on Syrian students living in refugee camps and those who are underprivileged to enrol in school, along with Syrians who will be fully empowered to develop skills and minimize educational impediments. Inclusion of Syrian refugees is a constant challenge in the country and the TAIS aims to contribute to addressing the issue. Due to the pandemic outbreak in the country, preceded and followed by other crises in Lebanon over the course of the project implementation, the focus of the TAIS shifted towards Health literacy and awareness. The Lebanese TAIS has been shaped by the necessities emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, most importantly among Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. The TAIS aims to provide a series of trainings and instruction about health awareness, but also to explore how participation in health awareness work affects vulnerable people’s motivation and identity, and what is the right role for trainers to raise this awareness. It looks for explanations about how vulnerable respond to an online awareness campaign to health issues, and how training can use a mix of media and technology in order to fit vulnerable people’s needs.
Excellence and inclusion as driving forces of the Lebanese ARU
The potential of the Lebanese ARU lies in the involvement of different actors, from the project focal point to the university governance (represented by the Provost and the Vice-President who joined several meetings), researchers, civil society representatives and supportive colleagues from the Excellence Centre. It was a founding principle that different professional skills should be represented, involving colleagues working in management, colleagues with a considerable expertise in social work, child protection, training and education, legal help and policy analysis. With the COVID-19 outbreak, and to cope with the difficulties generated by the pandemic, a staff member from the LIU Health Committee was also involved, so as to work in tandem with the objectives of the ARU. As a result, policy-makers, researchers, experts and strategic institutional figures were engaged in the ARU working, building on the principles of excellence and inclusion. More stakeholders were in the plan, but due to a number of unforeseen risk factors, their direct involvement was not possible; instead, they were consulted as interviewees for the definition of the vulnerability context and the TAIS. Most of the challenges faced by LIU were related to the political unrest that hit the country from October 2019 till Mid December of 2019. As a consequence, participants were so cautious with discussing and providing data, and traveling around the country was impeded with road blocks. Despite that, in December 2019 the ARU was set up, and the first ARU meeting took place in January 2020, followed by other meetings along the year for a total of 4 encounters. The big picture of the ARU strategy was clear from the start, yet it was only in January that a well-defined micro-operation started to click and the basic topics of RAISD were introduced to the group. Meetings were held in February and subsequently virtual contacts were scheduled to move forward with the TAIS implementation and in general to keep the ARU alive, up and running.
Positive and innovative factors of the ARU working
The LIU Health Committee worked to enrich all stakeholders with the coping tools needed to enhance them in developing their awareness and minimize the challenges in facing the COVID 19 pandemic trauma. As per the discussions that took place during the ARU meetings, vulnerable groups among forcibly displaced Syrian refugees have problems accessing to:
Basic health services
Application mechanisms for necessary issues
According to the ARU and Advisory Board members, elderly, maternal women and young infants age 6 are the riskiest group among vulnerable groups. Therefore, all mentioned accessing basic health services is one of the most important issues for such vulnerable groups. Many refugees in Lebanon do not have access to free healthcare services, as they do not have legal refugee status. In parallel with access to health services, the problem of accessing information mechanisms also arises. Especially due to the COVID-19 outbreak, PCR testing became a stumbling issue to such groups taking into account the cost. In addition, the lack of beds, protection and isolation facilities to contain contagion, the risk of getting the virus was high enough.
According to ARU and Advisory Board members, another important issue is access to education. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an online committee regarding teaching was requested to be formed and a website to deliver online training was established around mid-March 2020. In addition, those who had access to TV broadcasts and/or internet, could get some guidelines with all videos developed in Arabic as many have language barriers.
“Direct our trained students to move to their camps and to disseminate the information they have acquired, in order to raise the health awareness of the Syrian refugees in the Bekaa region”
The story of the Lebanese ARU is narrated by different voices. First, we hear the feedback of the Chair of the LIU Health Committee, Dr. Ahmad Faraj, on the intervention and support provided by the Health Committee to vulnerable communities through the RAISD project. The entering of the HC in the project was functional to the reaching of the ARU’s goals and support for refugee students. In fact, the HC was able to identify a number of Syrian refugee students, assess their skills on several matters and provide them with a series of training workshops. The training focused on health literacy, mobile-media use, communication and leadership skills and digital literacy, as it was reported by the second voice in the video, that of the student Nour Darwich. The training was performed online and addressed to the Syrian refugee students located in the Bekaa region, where the refugee camp is. It was rich in information and useful, in the words of Mohammad Al-Abar, another student who benefited from the work done at LIU by the Lebanese ARU. The HC aims for these students to transfer the knowledge acquired through the people staying at the refugee camp, so to raise their awareness on health matters, vaccination and much more.