oPt + 1 more

Syria career counsellor helps young refugees find their feet

May 2011
Homs refugee camp, Syria

Fida Awad starts every day at her Homs office with a stack of resumes on her desk, all from applicants from the nearby refugee camps hoping to enlist her help in finding employment.

”In a typical month, I usually work with about 30 clients,” she says.

As career guidance officer in the engaging youth project, she sees all kinds of jobseekers: men and women, fresh-faced adolescents and professionals with years of experience, university graduates and day labourers. But despite these varied backgrounds, all are looking for the same thing: a job.
Engaging youth project

The engaging youth project, funded by the European Union, marks the beginning of a long-term effort by UNRWA to create better prospects for young Palestinian refugees in Syria. It focuses on accompanying young people in the transition from school to work, and builds on UNRWA's considerable experience in vocational training, career guidance, and youth leadership development. The project works with young refugees from 13 to 35 years old by building their careers, developing their skills and promoting self-employment.

”I work to connect job seekers with appropriate positions based on their qualifications and preferences and, of course, the available vacancies,” Fida says.

Her challenge lies with preparing jobseekers until they are ready to succeed in a job interview. For some it will take one counselling session and one or two group workshops; for others it may take up to seven individual sessions on top of six group workshops.
New concept

When jobseekers enter the centre most of them hope to leave with a job in their pocket. Instead they find they have to work at it, learn new skills and make some choices. “Career counselling is a new concept in Syria and most people don’t understand our work,” explains Fida.

Adding to her challenges with the jobseekers are those with the private sector: “Many private companies have a real need for specific skills and backgrounds. However they don’t always have a human resources department able to establish a professional job description.”

In seeking to place her clients in the best possible positions, Fida needs to find creative ways of bridging the gap between the needs of the employers and the skills offered by the jobseekers.

“Young men, especially the unmarried, are really at risk of becoming impatient during the preparation process and stop coming to the centre out of sheer restlessness,” she says.
Difficult cases

However, she finds the most difficult cases are clients with a disability. “They have faced severe difficulties in obtaining an education and may have been marginalised by their families. In the workplace they have to be prepared to suffer from negative stereotypes.”

Nevertheless, despite these daunting challenges, Fida is bursting with success stories.

”I have so many,” she says, “but I specifically remember a young girl who, as a result of extreme poverty, was forced to drop out of school. We found her work in a factory. Two years later, after establishing herself and saving some money, she recommitted herself to education and furthering her career.” Building a future

Stories like this prove to Fida that her job goes far beyond simply finding employment for her clients in Homs camp. ”I believe strongly that what I am doing is building the capacity of our youth for the rest of their life.”

Victories like this, she says, “make me feel so powerful and ready to overcome all challenges and make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

Text by Travis Lowry