Manal Makkieh is a Palestinian social worker, journalist, activist, speaker and peacebuilder; born in 1998 as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, she was raised in a refugee camp in Beirut. She earned a Bachelor’s of Social Work and Community Development from the Lebanese American University in 2019 and was also a student leader at Georgetown University in the United States.
This enthusiastic female refugee activist has extensive experience in the non-profit sector in which she focuses on humanitarian/refugee services, gender issues/women’s rights, and peacebuilding/conflict resolution issues. As a Country Ambassador at Peace First and a Peace Builder at the UNAOC Young Peacebuilders Programme, Manal believes that healing divides within communities is the core for bringing people together and promoting fairness and peace.
She founded Kayani for Palestinian Females Project together with Jana Al Hariri, a Lebanese-Palestinian social worker, currently pursuing a Bachelor’s of Social Work and Community Development at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
Jana is committed to empowering youth and making a change nationally and globally by leading groups, mitigating conflicts, and building resilience.
In this interview with HOLR, Manal shares the vision, values and aims of her initiative, describes the difficulties Palestinian refugees face in Lebanon and explains how the ongoing economic and financial crisis in the Land of the cedars, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has affected the lives of Kayani’s beneficiaries.
What inspired you to create the Kayani project?
As a female Palestinian refugee who resided in a refugee camp in Beirut, I’ve been raised into accepting that Palestinian women are unable to become change leaders and peacebuilders. Yet, my passion for social work, community development, and peacebuilding has proved everyone wrong. My leadership potentials and inspiring vision have allowed me to establish Kayani Project to empower young Palestinian females in the MENA region and enrich their sense of responsibility towards each other. I have gone from a simple, nonchalant student to someone who slowly but surely ventured through the world of leadership and activism.
What does Kayani do and where does it operate?
Kayani is a project that amplifies the voices of Palestinian females dwelling in Palestinian Refugee camps in Lebanon and the MENA region.
o Empowering young Palestinian women who can convey real anonymous stories on previously incarcerated and marginalized Palestinian females living in the same area.
o Working on capacity building by providing workshops, awareness sessions, and focus groups on mental health and gender-based violence.
o Providing mentoring opportunities under the “Forsa Program” by linking young Palestinian ladies with certified mentors and emerging leaders worldwide to facilitate the exchange of experiences between both sides and enhance the females’ self-esteem, leadership, communication, etc.
o Documenting the history of Palestinian women who were deported from Palestine after 1948 and currently dwelling in the MENA region.
o Treating all females equally without any judgement or exclusion from the project.
o Linking females’ struggles and addressing them openly.
o Avoiding any type of discrimination, favouritism, and violence that might harm females.
o Standing in solidarity with other projects that have values aligned with the Kayani project.
o Taking democratic decisions that serve all females equally.
- Increase in the number and quality of services provided to young females in refugee camps.
- Increase the females’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities towards other women in the same Palestinian community.
- Increase the females’ feelings of self-esteem, self-reliance, and social responsibility.
- Create a supportive environment for Palestinian women in refugee camps.
What are the running programs at the moment?
Laha is a program that provides vocational and informative services to Palestinian women residing in Lebanon and around the world. The program offers both face-to-face and virtual sessions and workshops about gender-based violence, mental health, leadership, and personal development.
Watan in the Diaspora Program:
Watan in the Diaspora is a program that concentrates on documenting the history of Palestinian women who were deported from Palestine in 1948 and currently dwelling in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Through these documentaries, we aim to embrace the struggles and traumas encountered by these resilient females as well as their constant contribution to the sustainability of the Palestinian cause.
FORSA is a mentorship program that aims at matching Palestinian ladies from all around the world with Youth Leadership mentors whose mission is to orient mentees towards their goals and provide them with the skills they need to reach their full potential throughout a certain period of time.
During the period of the mentorship, and with the constant support of our professional mentors, mentees will be developing their soft skills including effective public speaking, compelling communication, finding college scholarships, and others.
Being under the supervision of our professional mentors, our mentees will be able to set higher vocational goals and aim to pursue and achieve them with higher self-confidence and certainty, which will open many doors for them in the future.
Who are the beneficiaries?
All Palestinian females dwelling in Palestinian refugee camps in the MENA region.
What are the main challenges that Palestinian refugees face today in Lebanon?
Palestinians living in Lebanon have long been subjected to different forms of injustice, unfairness, and discrimination whether socially, economically, or governmentally. Due to political reasons, Palestinian refugees have long been perceived and treated as a special group of foreigners yet denied from the same rights granted to other foreigners due to the ‘Right of Return’ ideology. This does not only deprive Palestinian refugees of their basic rights enjoyed by other people living in Lebanon such as Lebanese people and other refugees but also denies them rights as refugees under international conventions. These people are scattered among 12 camps and 42 gatherings across the country that are described to be urban ghettos, comprised of concrete blocks with corrugated roofs, and covered with a maze of makeshift electric wires, as well as being surrounded by checkpoints and, in some cases, security walls and barbed wire. The reality that Palestinians are living on day to day basis is unconcealed, in addition to the different pressures Palestinians are subjected to and how this influences negatively and hugely the Palestinian female’s empowerment that Kayani, our program, aspires to resolve and achieve.
How have you made a difference in their lives so far?
Despite all these limitations, a sparkle of hope still makes it possible for the younger generation of girls and even for high school female students to overcome these barriers and get empowered enough to make a change and alter the existing misconceptions the community has been adopting for a long time. So, here comes into our consideration the importance of social media and technology which exposes these girls to new opportunities whether educational, vocational or professional or even to conceptual ideological empowering ones such as KAYANI or other projects. Today, Kayani, has become the main connector between women in the Palestinian community and the outer world. Through Kayani, we are trying to orient, guide, and raise awareness for women so they can deliver their messages. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish the main part of our vision yet the journey is still long.
What do you still want to accomplish in the future?
Despite witnessing the success of Kayani Project resonating, I still believe that it’s only the first footprint to me in the world of activism and my thirst hasn’t been quenched yet. Therefore, in order to evolve as a peacebuilder on a bigger scale, I’m willing first to take further steps towards change through education. I’ve always believed that education is the only rescue, and that’s why I pursued it relentlessly. Although my BA was a fundamental base to the formation of my understanding of the internal and external interactions, needs, and conflicts within communities, yet earning an MA in peacebuilding, conflict resolution, or any other related field, will for sure equip me further with the theoretical and practical understanding of the change process. Hence, in the upcoming two years, I’m aiming to earn a masters degree as well as expand Kayani Project to be able to proceed with healing divides, finding common ground with conflicting groups, and rebuilding systems to bring people together and solve their collective problem.
Over the past 9 months, Lebanon has been hit hard by the financial and economic crisis, has experienced dramatic hyperinflation and has been trying to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. On August 4, it was shaken to its core by the deadly blast that occurred in Beirut. How has this situation impacted the life of Palestinian refugees and the work of Kayani?
The financial and economic crisis, Covid-19 pandemic, and the Lebanese revolution have surely negatively affected Palestinian refugees in the country on all levels. And to make it worse, last summer, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor rolled out new regulations for the employment of foreign workers and cracked down on labour violations that eventually led to the fining and closure of foreign-owned businesses. While these regulations aimed to address concerns surrounding Syrian refugee workers, they also affected Palestinian refugees who took to the streets in protest. Minister of Labor Camille Bou Suleiman said that his ministry would “facilitate work permit procedures” and give Palestinians privileges not extended to other foreign workers. However, the deteriorating situation has led to the expulsion of a large number of Palestinian workers from the Lebanese labour market. Today, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are forbidden to work in more than 70 professions and the neutral attitude towards Palestinians in Lebanon, while [denying] them services, has become even more unjust. Thus, I believe that UNRWA must negotiate with the Lebanese government to provide relief as there is no clear strategy to combat the harsh fallout from Lebanon’s socio-economic collapse. Also, service providers should refocus their efforts to secure the employment rights of Palestinian refugees until they return to Palestine, along with other crucial needs like hospitalization, medical care, education, and food.
Fortunately, Kayani hasn’t been affected by the situation since it already operates on zero funds, instead, it was triggered by today’s crises to move forward and provide further free of charge services to women in the Palestinian community until the situation gets resolved.
In what ways can our readers contribute to your initiatives?
They can follow and track our social media platforms:
- Instagram: @kayani.fpip
- Youtube: Kayani Project
- LinkedIn: Kayani Project
Or Volunteer/ donate by contacting us on our email:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org