European Endowment for Democracy: cultural hubs give voice to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

August 25, 2017
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In Lebanon’s dusty, overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps, conditions are dire. But with help from the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), two community groups are determined to drive change from the bottom-up and give hope to the young generation.

The Borj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in southern Beirut is home to up to 44,000 people, and more refugees trickle in from Syria every day. Like the other 12 Palestinian camps spread across Lebanon, Borj Al-Barajneh has grown into a permanent micro city, plagued by cramped living conditions, unemployment, and poor infrastructure.

In the midst of the labyrinth, an unassuming doorway leads to Jafra meeting place. Founded in 2015 by Palestinian musician Ashraf el-Chouli, Jafra is a hub of ideas and cultural and social initiatives. In such a hostile environment, the meeting place gives young refugees a place where they can step away from the difficulties of everyday life.

The first of its kind in the camp, the venue is run by a team of 8 volunteers – six men and two women. Anyone can drop by to play music, read in its small library, learn English or simply share a cup of coffee and a chat. There is also a makeshift recording studio where musicians can record tracks.

Funding from the EED will allow Jafra to purchase technical equipment for the studio and develop a web-based radio station and monthly cultural magazine. The idea, explained El-Chouli, is to give young people a platform to showcase their musical and artistic talents. They will also receive training to develop their journalistic skills.

Originally, Jafra had wished to maintain its independence and not accept funding from donors. However, EED’s approach and flexibility marked it out as different.

“Usually donors come with money and their own ideas. EED is unusual in that it actually asked what needs we have,” says El-Chouli.

EED has already funded a similar initiative – the Camps Cast Community Media initiative – in the Baddawi Palestinian Camp in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon.

Run by Ammar Youzbachi, a long-time volunteer, Camps Cast, is “a collective of artists”. A singing group, media group, hip-hop artists, and 3D animators – all avail of the initiative’s workshop space and makeshift audio-visual studio.

Camps Cast has already broadcast several programmes, ranging from experimental short videos tackling social and political issues in the camp, to piloting oral vox pops and a highly popular inter-schools quiz show.

A grant from EED is helping the group to professionalise. Dedicated staff, training opportunities and new equipment will help to improve the production quality. Professional television producers have come to the camp to teach them the ropes.

“We appreciate that EED’s support is not just material. It also offers opportunities for sharing ideas. Linking up with other camps helps us all ‘think bigger’ and learn from one another,” says Youzbachi.


Read more

Press release

JAFRA initiative summary

CAMPSCAST initiative summary

Photo compilation of project visits in Lebanon: EED Flickr page

Countries covered:

  • Lebanon
  • Palestine *
Human Rights