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Teenagers playing with smartphones. At least that’s what it looks like

Teenagers playing with smartphones. At least that’s what it looks like
WFP creates new opportunities for youth in Lebanon through digital skills training

But the reality is surprisingly different. This may well be the next generation of technological innovators, testing out their new apps and websites. They are participants in a ground-breaking digital livelihoods programme run by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Conflict in Syria has had a myriad of negative impacts on the region. Spread throughout the region is an entire generation of dissatisfied youth, feeling marginalised and lost. They are far from home and their opportunities are few.

“My life was empty. Now I have a direction,” said Mona a participant in the programme.

The programme is not only for Syrians. Lebanese students are enrolled too. Since the crisis began, WFP has responded to the urgent food needs of thousands of vulnerable Lebanese through cash-for-food transfers, but also through innovative digital livelihoods programmes like this one. All participants receive a small stipend to cover transportation costs to and from class and an accreditation after graduation.

The aim of the programme is two-fold: it helps to close the gap between food assistance and food needs, but also gives a generation a set of transferable skills that can be used by Syrians when they return home, or for remote work, and by Lebanese right now.

In the AUB classroom, 30 Lebanese and Syrian teenagers are testing the apps that they designed during an intensive eight week digital livelihoods programme run by WFP. The programme was developed to address the lack of opportunities for youth. There is a global demand for intensive data services such as image annotation, picture tagging or editing, data entry and data cleaning. Like the youth of today, that demand is mobile and global.

Mona explained how the programme tested her limited skills and launched her into a domain she knew nothing about.

“I could not even type when I began. I used one finger, but now I use them all.”

So far, 350 students have participated in the programme, each with unique ambitions and aspirations to use their newly acquired skills.

“I most enjoyed learning how to use PhotoShop,” explained Malik. “Editing photos of people is my favourite task.”

WFP in Lebanon has provided food assistance to the most vulnerable Syrians since the conflict began. Of the millions who fled Syria, more than one million sought refuge in Lebanon. Over time, many depleted their personal savings and became entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. That survival was, and is, the means to the one common end goal of returning home to Syria.

After graduating from the basic level course, Malik learned how to develop a website and has ambitions now to set up a new site to bid for freelance work.

“Data cleaning is my favourite part of the course,” said Dana. “I love seeing things clean, so making numbers match makes me happy.”

The pilot programme in Lebanon is expanding and being replicated by WFP in other countries across the region.