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Helping Partners Help Others

By David Snyder

For tens of thousands across Lebanon—from school students in need of physical exams to vulnerable women seeking free medical services—the name Ajialouna, meaning "our generation" in Arabic, is synonymous with care, solace and support. Through an innovative program supported by Catholic Relief Services, the reach and quality of that support will soon be amplified.

Aijalouna staff member

This former student at the training center at Ajialouna, a CRS partner, now works in the tailoring shop in the organization's Beirut office. CRS regularly offers job-coaching to Ajialouna staff. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

Established in 1995 to improve health care services for Lebanon's students, the nongovernmental organization Ajialouna has grown to offer a range of medical and social services. From its multistoried offices in Beirut, Ajialouna provides free health, dental and psychological care to the city's most vulnerable residents. Its services include physical therapy, an on-site pharmacy and regular access to specialists such as pediatricians and optometrists.

Through Ajialouna, people can also attend job-training classes ranging from sewing to computers. And students in a culinary arts class taught in a modern kitchen sell their products to raise money for the organization's social projects.

Staffed largely by a core of about 80 volunteers, Ajialouna has years of experience, a committed work force and a problem common to many of CRS' local partners around the world: a lack of institutional capacity.

"The volunteers that we have lack experience in writing proposals to access grants," says Roula Kaissi, administrator of Ajialouna. "So CRS is helping us through a series of workshops on our weak points."

From Charity to Institution

Helping local nongovernmental organizations strengthen their weak points is exactly what the Implement and Develop the Capacity of Lebanese NGOs project is about. Funded through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a U.S. State Department effort, the project links skilled and experienced nongovernmental organizations such as CRS with local partners to build up their staff.

Aijalouna sells products at its shop to raise money for social projects

Ajialouna, a CRS partner in Beirut that relies primarily on private donations for its programs, sells products at its shop to raise money for social projects. CRS is providing our expertise to Ajialouna's staff so they may strengthen their proposal-writing skills. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

The project also puts systems into place that enable partners to develop proposal writing skills so they can access grants offered by donors. Through a series of workshops and regular on-site support, CRS staff works directly with partner Ajialouna and 15 other nongovernmental organizations in Lebanon to help staff develop other critical skills they need to do their own work more effectively.

"We are really trying to move up from a charity to an institution," Kaissi says. "And we are doing that department by department."

The project includes sessions on budgeting, report writing and cost allocation, as well as lessons on human resources, marketing and fundraising—each tailored to the organization's particular needs. Perhaps most important, on-the-job coaching and job shadowing opportunities reinforce training and provide staff with a practical learning experiences.

For Ajialouna, which depends almost exclusively on private local and regional donors to sustain its programs, accessing grant money directly from international donors would significantly improve the breadth and quality of its programming, from social services to its free medical clinic.

"We are not able to fund the clinic for the whole day—only from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.," Kaissi says. "We need a fixed source of funding for this. We can't just depend on private donors."

For Kaissi, who has a passion for Ajialouna's mission to help Lebanon's most vulnerable residents, having access to CRS' expertise promises real and positive change. By learning the process of proposal writing, Ajialouna's staff and volunteers will themselves be empowered to tap into significant funding sources that, so far, have been out of reach.

Eager, motivated, and inspired by the opportunity this project presents, Kaissi has a vision of reaching all of Ajialouna's staff with the support now at hand through the organization's partnership with CRS.

"We found out that the more people know, the more benefit we will all get," Kaissi says. "I don't just want the heads of departments to attend these workshops. I want everybody to attend. This is what Ajialouna is about."

David Snyder is a photojournalist based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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