30 December 2014

Three internally displaced Palestine refugees from Yarmouk and nine
interior design trainees sat around a table at the UNRWA Damascus
Training Centre, preparing a wastebasket of recycled magazines. These
students were the first batch of apprentices to join a new UNRWA
recycling course, and spent September and October learning about the
handicraft industry and recycling.

The course, organized as part of the Engaging Youth Project, funded by
the European Union (EU), gave students the knowledge and skills to
identify and repurpose recyclable goods. Challenged to think about how
to reuse waste in creative ways, their innovative ideas included
reusing plastic cutlery, wrapping paper, magazines and empty cans.
They produced chairs, boxes of crayons, toiletry holders and
chandeliers made of magazines.

The Engaging Youth Project recycling course enabled the students to
turn their experiences of hardship and displacement into powerful
catalysts for acquiring new job skills and potentially new
livelihoods. Twenty-year old Hiba Hussein, an interior design student
at the Damascus Training Centre, left Yarmouk in December 2012 and now
lives with her family in Qudsaya. She made a Santa Claus boot for
holding personal items. “I was encouraged to do the course because it
was different and I thought I could learn skills I could apply to my
everyday life,” she explained. However, Hiba added that making objects
from recyclable materials will not necessarily lower their cost,
especially if they are handmade. “Each object takes time to make and
it is a unique piece because it has our fingerprint on it. However, if
we sell the items at a lower price, we will get more clients and this
will help us early in our careers.”

Douaa al-Masri, a displaced refugee from Yarmouk, lives at the
Damascus Training Centre with her family. “Because we now live at the
Damascus Training Center, I thought it would be good to make something
useful for our shelter,” Douaa said. She made a papier-mâché lamp with
circular holes, painted orange and brown.

Hiba Mahmoud is one of the five interior design trainees who boards at
the centre’s facilities. She is from Khan Eshieh, but the road home is
closed and the camp is too unsafe for her to return. Hiba said the
wastepaper basket she made was for graphic design students “because we
work and throw out paper a lot”. The basket is built of
meticulously-rolled strips of paper.

Despite the hardships endured during the four-year armed conflict in
Syria, the students were motivated and ambitious. Hiba appreciated the
opportunity the recycling course gave to develop skills for her future
career and livelihood. “I am studying because if I develop myself and
continue higher education I can start my own company,” she said.