Author: Leen Hashem, June 21 2016 - 'We've started a WhatsApp group for refugees living in this area' a middle aged man said enthusiastically, explaining how the platform was helping the group share information and provide each other with much needed support.
The man, formerly a respected school teacher in Syria, was speaking to a group of people at a drop-in information centre (called Dawaween in Arabic). Forced to flee his home in Syria to Lebanon five years ago, he was determined to help his community build a future. ‘Syria is our homeland and we must be prepared to rebuild it on our return’ he remarked assuredly. His peers nodded in agreement.
Information is aid
With more than a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and the crisis entering its sixth year, accurate and useful information about services and resources has become vital for their day-to-day survival.
Run by Relief International, the Dawaween acts as a hub for refugees to access information about vital health, education and legal services. Free internet access allows refugees to stay connected to the outside world and a child-friendly play area is strewn with toys to keep the kids occupied. Visitors are able to watch a host of educational but entertaining BBC Media Action films providing practical tips on topics including food hygiene, shelter management and ways to avoid head lice.
A mobile app for refugees
Like the school teacher, many refugees use smartphones to keep in touch with loved ones and to seek support. With this in mind, we have developed a free, Arabic-language app to give refugees in Lebanon information on services and facilities including schools, universities, hospitals and community centres, all searchable by area. Moreover, the app features a “hotline” number and a “shout out” section wherein refugees can record comments or make enquiries which are then referred to relevant legal, medical and humanitarian organisations providing services and support for refugees.
Knowledge is power
In times of uncertainty timely, reliable information and channels for two-way communication are crucial in helping refugees to stay safe and survive. I hope that like WhatsApp, our new app will play an important role in this endeavour.
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work for Syrian refugees.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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