El Maachouk, Tyre, South Lebanon, June 2020 - People living in El Maachouk, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Tyre which is home to Palestinian and Syrian refugees and Lebanese residents, finally have a community centre where they come together.

The area is one of 42 neighbourhoods in Lebanon with a majority Palestinian population. Until recently, the community used streets, car parks, and coffee shops to gather and celebrate events due to a lack of public spaces, while the children played in cemeteries and busy streets.

However in December 2018, UN-Habitat, in partnership with the Palestinian Popular Committee and with funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Beirut and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, set up a community centre open to everyone.

“After years of running activities in small houses, non-shaded spaces, and on the streets, we finally have a centre offering a holistic programme contributing to the happiness and well-being of vulnerable groups living in El Maachouk,” said the co-ordinator of the centre, Fadia Dahshe.

The community centre engages different groups including refugees in joint programmes and activities, decreasing inter-communal tension, and helping to maintain peaceful social relations. Women’s committees, youth groups, NGOs and refugees took part in the consultative process about the centre.

Women from the deprived area of El Maachouk in Tyre Lebanon attend a discussion at the UN-Habitat supported community centre
Women from the deprived area of El Maachouk in Tyre Lebanon attend a discussion at the UN-Habitat supported community centre

The centre offers activities for young women and men, including vocational training programmes for income generation, literacy classes, awareness raising activities on good parenting, reproductive health, sexual and gender-based violence and hygiene promotion as well as clubs for culture and football. There are also fitness, dance, chess and other classes for children.

“The centre is a great achievement, because it’s the only place where the women’s committee receives training and empowerment sessions. This learning experience allows us to support El Maachouk’s vulnerable community,” says Nayfe El Morshed, member of El Maachouk’s women’s committee.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, activities at the centre were altered to accommodate the residents’ needs. For instance, all recreational activities targeting children have been put on hold, to avoid any possibility of contamination among them, while focus shifted towards empowering women to overcome the current economic crisis, and to sensitize community groups on COVID-19 precautionary measures. Furthermore, many humanitarian agencies are using the centre to provide support for vulnerable populations in Maachouck, such as food parcels and hygiene kits in addition to health services.