The youth of Deir Ezzor make a change: Volunteers work together for a cleaner city

Young women volunteers from Deir Ezzor spraying pecticides as part of the cleaning efforts

After three years of escalating conflict, Syria is witnessing a deepening economic crisis, loss of livelihoods, and deteriorating coping mechanisms. In addition to increasing poverty and economic disparity, there is a large proportion of youth who is unemployed. Many small businesses and large factories have closed and as a consequence, an enormous number of employees mostly youth, have lost their jobs, according to the Syrian Socio-economic Impact Report 2013 which puts the rate of unemployment at 48%. The open conflict has also lead to high drop-out from schools and universities, the national dropout rate from schools has reached 49%. The distortion of local markets and the local economy, and the high number of unemployed youth also has a negative impact on the social fabric of communities. The prevailing context exposes them to high political, social, economic and security risks. Other are heavily implicated in violence with various warring parties.

Highlights

  • The open conflict has also lead to high drop-out from schools and universities, the national dropout rate from schools has reached 49%.

To address the impact of the escalating crisis and build resilience in affected communities, UNDP Syria developed quick impact projects, with a special focus on vulnerable groups including youth. Such projects included emergency employment for repairing basic community infrastructure and improving service delivery (such as cash-for-work schemes for collection and removal of solid waste in areas where municipal services are either disrupted or discontinued); in addition to restoration of disrupted livelihoods, revival of small business, asset replacement, and vocational training.

Located in the North-East of Syria, Deir Ezzor is one of the most affected Governorates since the beginning of the crisis in 2011. 70% of the city is destroyed, over 60% of the agricultural sector is damaged, the food industry providing employment to individuals is lost. Livestock production which constitutes 60% of the income of the agricultural sector is lost. The major challenges faced are rising unemployment, absence of job opportunities, difficult access to all levels of education, and limited capacity of local authorities to provide and sustain vital social services (the local municipality lost 80% of its capacity). Currently, the city of Deir Ezzor is composed of six relatively stable neighborhoods inhabited by 320,000, who are mainly young people.

“The critical security situation, made access to education rather difficult, 70% of the city is inaccessible, a large number of schools are used to host IDPs, faculties of Deir Ezzor University moved to secure areas and lost more than 50% of their students. The school and university dropout rates is very high” says Hassan Abboudi, a Deir Ezzor resident and the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Businesses are lost, the local market is disrupted and the rising unemployment affected tremendously the livelihoods of the residents of the city, specifically youth. This reality has led to a large migration of youth out of Deir Ezzor”.

Dedicated to restore the disrupted livelihoods of his city, Hassan Abboudi, a young Syrian citizen saw the need to mobilize the local community. “I am one of many young people in Deir Ezzor who share a determination to revive the city and provide its people with survival and coping tools”.

Therefore, a project was launched by the Chamber and UNDP as an entry point to engage the youth of Deir Ezzor an capitalize on their potential as a positive agents of change. “The local municipality was unable to provide regular solid waste removal services which led to health and environmental hazards that jeopardized the wellbeing of the inhabitants who were determined to stay in their city, albeit the difficult living conditions” says Hassan, “I saw thousands of young people with capacities and willing to support the project”

“So far, we employed 320 workers mostly youth and 28 disabled to fill in the capacity gap in the municipality in the area of garbage collection. The job opportunities enabled the beneficiaries to meet their basic need and provide a dignified source of income (equivalent to 175USD a month) to support their families” says Hassan “we have a long waiting list of people who are interested to join and we are mapping their capacities to approach UNDP with other initiatives. Our objective is not only income but also the opportunity for the youth to join and play a positive role in the society instead of reverting to negative coping mechanisms”.

“We were shocked with the number of volunteers from the youth. 600 young people were mobilized and we have a waiting list of interested youth who want to join” says Hassan “the age group of the volunteers ranges between 18 and 25 and they are mostly university students. 58% of them are women and 27 are people with special needs”.

“I was so happy to join this initiative” says Sammaraa who leads a group of young women volunteers that are supporting the municipality in the removal of solid waste and raising awareness. “We go door to door, school to school in order to spread the message of cleanliness and most importantly volunteerism” continued Sammaraa who is studying Sociology in the faculty in Deir Ezzor. “We have changed the culture”, says Sammaraa. “We are the first women team to work on solid waste. The local community accepted us despite the social attitudes towards women cleaning streets, when they saw our dedication and commitment to clean our city”.

“We clean the streets that have become piled up with mountains of trash and especially around the public shelters and health clinics” said Sammaraa. “But most importantly, we reach out to others particularly university students so that they understand that a clean city is their responsibility and not just the municipality’s. Our goal is to fight the garbage piles that have become the major health hazard right in front of our doorsteps” continued Sammaraa.

So far, the volunteers reached out to 18,600 residents with awareness messages. The volunteer clean-up events, organized by the volunteers themselves, helped so far to keep four neighborhoods, which are populated with at least 83,500 residents, clean.

“This initiative has become an opportunity for bringing neighbors together while encouraging young volunteers to continue their efforts to improve their community” says Hassan.

“One of the most important achievements of this project, was that it helped change the mindsets of people especially youth who took public services such as garbage collection for granted, but now they realized that they have to contribute and can mobilize local communities to address the impact of the crisis” says Aboudi. “This project is an entry point to mobilize the youth for addressing the impact of the crisis and help them cope with its consequences. Youth are the key to change and the driver for making it happen”.