The CHANGE project, from Unite Lebanon Youth, aids young marginalized Palestinian refugees living in extreme circumstances by providing them with access to higher education.

All 75 students selected for ULYP’s higher education project qualified for and are attending university in Lebanon.

The judges said it won for its self-evident success rate educating isolated Palestinian and Syrian refugees, which will create a lasting legacy. The judges also felt that CHANGE provides life skills, is transformative and should be a model project that can and should inspire other organisations with similar objectives.

ULYP (Unite Lebanon Youth Project) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in Lebanon on January 28, 2010.

ULYP’s stated mission is to “empower the marginalized children, youth and women living in Lebanon today with the skills and knowledge they need to become active agents of change for a better tomorrow, without any discrimination.”

ULYP’s work is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to fulfill his or her inherent potential, and to have a voice in the process of getting there. This ULYP believes is especially true for refugees, who make up more than one quarter of Lebanon’s population. ULYP creates educational opportunities and gives equal access to quality educational programs for children, youth and women in marginalized communities where its programs strive to raise general awareness on mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance of others.

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'Change starts with Education'

ULYP’s CHANGE program developed from the slogan ‘change starts with education’ and the objective ‘to offer equal opportunity to refugees to lift themselves out of poverty, improve their professional prospects and become active agents of change’.

The project targeted refugees from Syria, particularly those twice-displaced – Palestine’s refugees who fled from Syria. By working with this specific group – in Beirut and Southern Lebanon – the CHANGE program was able to provide life-changing interventions to groups often overlooked by other development activities.

CHANGE’s specific objectives were:

  • to identify, bring together and empower motivated refugee youth and support them to reach potential; and . . .
  • make tertiary education accessible to refugees by equipping them with the necessary skills to meet the enrollment criteria.

CHANGE was a one-year program that opened doors for a better future to 75 refugees and twice-displaced refugees.

CHANGE helped them by improving their academic skills, particularly in English, providing academic counseling and preparing them for higher education at a time when they have often given up on this possibility. Tertiary education in Lebanon is taught almost exclusively in English but many of the CHANGE target population lack the required level of English, when they are otherwise well qualified. This is mainly due to the fact that education in Syria is in Arabic.

To meet the first objective, the CHANGE team conducted extensive community outreach activities to identify the beneficiaries, especially those twice-displaced. Seventy-five 12th grade students were selected from 16 schools, across the country, based on criteria including socio-economic and academic need, and commitment. 

To meet the second objective, a university entrance preparatory program was designed. The activities were first directed towards improving school performance and raising scores in official Lebanese exams, equipping students with the skills to pass the university English-language entrance exams. The activities also included college guidance and counselling, covering topics such as university application requirements, how to select majors, confidence building exercises and life skills education.

The main aim of the program was to encourage and support more refugees in their quest for higher education.

The final results exceeded all expectations in three ways. Firstly, attendance and motivation of the youth was high, at over 98%. This was unique given the age, profile and the challenges of bringing young people together from different areas and refugee camps. ULYP counteracted this by modifying the schedules, teaching on Sundays and accommodating schedules of students who were already employed in work. Secondly, all of the students passed their English language entrance exams and, most impressively, all were accepted in universities. This surpassed the expectation of the program and was the most important impact of the intervention.

Following the planned activities of CHANGE, the ULYP scholarship program was able to fund 40 of these students at one of Lebanon’s top universities, American University of Science and Technology (AUST) and the other 35 students secured funds independently. As such, the impact of CHANGE extended beyond the life of the program, and ensured the long-term impact for the beneficiaries. Finally, 97% of the students interviewed reported that the program supported their needs and that the counselling and application support components of the programs were advantageous to them. This high percentage validates the need for this population to access customized academic, emotional and technical support.

ULYP’s project CHANGE  proved that hope can be rekindled and it all starts with education. Many of the beneficiaries were in a state of despair because tertiary education was out of reach. Although donors worldwide do offer scholarship opportunities for the refugees in Lebanon, many of the qualifications funded by them do not lead to better livelihoods mostly because of poor English competence, lack of counselling and financial constraints.

Since 2010, ULYP has supported more than 15,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees through a range of innovative educational programs.

ULYP projects continue to prove that refugees are full of potential and the CHANGE project provides ample evidence of their effectiveness in improving the lives of many refugees and IDPs in Lebanon.

As 18-year-old Mohammad, a Syrian refugee, put it: “For the first time in my life, I took an English exam without cheating! I used to get 12/40 but only a few sessions after the ChANGE program, I got 31/40. I have never felt as confident as I do right now.” Mohammad, a Palestine refugee from Syria, confirmed that “the program helped [him] gain confidence and motivation to study harder and feel prepared for university.” Prior to CHANGE program, Mohammad was not considering entering college. Asmaa, another Palestine refugee from Syria, said she thought the program was only about improving her English skills, but realized it meant to improve her life skills as well.

“The teaching methods and the life skills classes in this program are new to me; they actually transformed me from a shy to a courageous person capable of dealing with problems in life.”