Letting One Hand Wash Another and finding Common Ground

LebRelief is effecting real change across social and cultural divides. The annual UNICEF LRC WASH Festival, an upbeat and energetic two-day fair, provides tangible proof of their success.

Simon Balsom
Children at a fair having fun.
Stephen Gerard Kelly
23 January 2019

Channeling themselves, ostensibly through mobilizing local communities to adopt measures aimed at improving hygiene and raising environmental awareness, LebRelief (LRC) – a Tripoli-based NGO– is effecting real change across social and cultural divides. The annual UNICEF LRC WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Festival, an upbeat and energetic two-day fair held at the city’s American Square and Bab Al Tabbaneh Garden, provided tangible proof of their success.

The Festival offered children the opportunity to learn through play, and provided a focal point and celebration for the previous 12-months of effort and engagement. Through interactive games created by 200 Lebanese university students, they learned the important responsibilities of modern-day city life including recycling, water management and environmental pollution – all accompanied by an ear-drum bursting backdrop of traditional and contemporary Arabic children’s songs, music and even an environmental flashmob who danced their key message directly in to the children’s hearts and minds.


WASH fair with children gathered around.
Stephen Gerard Kelly

For LRC’s WASH Program Manager, Rayan Jammal, the key to the program’s success has been flexibility – “A pragmatic flexibility between us and UNICEF has helped us better serve the communities we’re here to support” she says.

LRC’s Jihad Jneid sums up the project’s success up succinctly; “It’s all about trust, and trust from all sides. Building on this base, communities have worked together and seen how cooperating benefits everyone.”

LRC counselor, Khaled Al Sabbagh, told me, “We inspire the creation of new projects from within the community through local WASH committees. We’re introducing life skills, and teaching people how to solve problems themselves. They’re learning who to approach and how to approach them in order to secure a solution. We have become the hub of every environmental initiative in Tripoli. When people decide they want to make a change, they call us first.”


Children playing around a table.
Stephen Gerard Kelly

Everyone in the pumped-up arena of Bab Al Tabbaneh Garden has a story to tell. They no longer allow their past to define their future, yet they’re keen to recall the tales as a measure of how far their involvement in the WASH Program has empowered them to progress.

Muna, 25, from Qobbe, rarely left home, and took some convincing before becoming involved in LRC’s UNICEF supported program. However, she acknowledges it has enabled her to build a positive future. Today, she organizes weekly cleaning campaigns and is adding real value to the community. Why the change? “Because I now have a meaning to my life” she says.

“Never give up. You can do anything you want to if you set your mind to it. But if you don’t believe this – you’ll never do anything with your life”.

Amal, also from Qobbe, was inspired by her children to join the local WASH organizing committee. She’s felt a change within herself and seen the attitudes of those around her change too. “I’d always believed that it wasn’t right for women to work – that our place was in the home. Seeing what I’ve been able to do within WASH, I’ve learned I can change lives for the better. The program gives us the chance to show what we can do.”

Student volunteer Nadine is helping create learning activities for the children of the area. Teaching them how to conserve water through fun and engagement, she’s sees the program as a force for good. “They already had an idea about the things we’re teaching them, but had no opportunity to try things out for themselves – they all react enthusiastically when we work with them”.


Children gathered around a city model.
Stephen Gerard Kelly

The final words must to the remarkable young orphan Yazan - lovingly known to all as ‘The Beast’. At just 13 years of age he’s witnessed more in his life than any child should, yet, through involvement with the WASH Program he’s reformed himself, returned to school and become a valuable member of the community. He shares wisdom beyond his years when he tells me, “Never give up. You can do anything you want to if you set your mind to it. But if you don’t believe this – you’ll never do anything with your life”.

Beyond its headline remit of nurturing good hygiene and environmental practices, the UNICEF LRC WASH Program funded by the Canadian government, has engaged across age, gender and cultural boundaries and is creating a community that is again working together as one.