Amanda McLoughlin has been in Lebanon for four years, as Head of Department for International Development (DFID) at the British Embassy. At the end of her mission, we met her to know about UK Aid in Lebanon.
«There will always be a piece of my heart in Lebanon»
How did you come to work in this field? I came from a very strange angle. When I was a child I always wanted to be a journalist, I loved reading and writing. I chose to study English literature, then I went on traveling because I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I decided to live in Cambodia where I was teaching English and trying to do journalism on the side but I noticed I wasn’t very successful as a journalist. At that time, I discovered a lot of inequality in Cambodia, especially with regards to the treatment of women. I volunteered with a charity that works on women’s rights and that’s how I found my direction. I applied to work for the British government on our aid program and developed my career from there. We have a ministry for aid in the UK, called DFID, the development ministry. I started there in 2004, I worked on different issues and countries: Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Afghanistan. I also worked with two cabinet ministers, Douglas Alexander, and Andrew Mitchell, both Secretaries of State for International Development, providing them with advice on aid.
You visited so many countries, what is your impression on each country? What is the difference between Indonesia, India, Cambodia? Each country has its own set of challenges, its own set of things that are unique and attractive. India was the place I spent the most of time, what I found was very interesting because we had this very long historic relationship between Britain and India, this colonial past which for me brought some positives and negatives. At times, there was some suspicion between the two countries about some facts that happened in the past. When I came to Lebanon four years ago, the situation was different. We started without preconceptions as we did not have a close historical relationship. We can say to the Lebanese government: «We are here to learn, we don’t know the country so well, we want to listen to what you need and what you want and design our approach based on that.»
Can you tell us about your aid to the municipalities? This was a UNDP idea jointly with the ministry of Social Affairs, they came to us with the idea of wanting to focus aid on the most vulnerable municipalities, the ones that have the most refugees and the most economic problems. The idea was to change international support to where the pressures were greatest for Lebanese communities, and try to help ease the burden they are facing.
Which municipalities you worked most with? Over two hundred municipalities and the list is growing, big municipalities, small municipalities all across Lebanon, in the North (especially Tripoli and Akkar), South, Mount Lebanon, Beqaa.
Does it mean that all the aid goes to Syrian refugees? Not at all. The idea is how we can help the Lebanese communities to cope. We identified the municipalities where there are many Syrians already and UNDP then organized community sessions to identify the pressures they are facing. They made a prioritized list of needs which is unique to each community, covering things like waste water treatment or rubbish collection, street lighting, roads repairing, sewage, then we funded UNDP to carry out the projects accordingly, working closely with the central ministries and the local mayor.
What about the books for children? What was this program? We wanted to make sure that all children in public schools benefit from UK support. So we reimbursed the teachers and the parents for the regular text books the children use in schools, the normal curriculum… The aid was granted for all children going to school, not only Syrian children. This was because we recognized that it causes resentment to only provide for Syrian children and exclude Lebanese.
What else than books? It started with books and then became more of a holistic approach in order to strengthen education in Lebanon acroos the board. For example, funds for schools, for research, for non-formal education programs, for support to the Ministry… Our total commitment is £160m over four years for education in Lebanon.
It’s a lot of money, which means that it’s more than books donation, can you tell us about it? We work with some excellent partners such as World Bank and UNICEF to help deliver the Ministry’s RACE plan (Reaching all Children with Education). This plan covers many areas from ensuring all children have access to education, to improving the quality of that education. We have a very close relationship with the Ministry who lead the way on all this.
«I believe in Lebanon and its potential»
What was your work with the refugees? Since the beginning of the crisis, we wanted to help the refugees because we believe that is a humanitarian crisis, we are giving the basics for food, fuel and shelter to keep their situation from getting worse. The UK is the biggest donor on the humanitarian side.
Do you work through the ministry of Social affairs or you work directly with the refugees? We work directly with the UN in close coordination with the government.
And where does the money go? To UNHCR, UNICEF and other agencies. We give to the UN and the UN gives to the refugees.
And how do you assess in which direction the aid should go and what is the budget allowed? With our humanitarian support, we want to target the most vulnerable, who can’t afford to buy food, who are in debt. Our aid only goes to these ones, we do not support the ones who have enough to support themselves. Over time we hope we can focus more on the municipalities and the education work, that can have a long term impact on this country.
There is an impression in Lebanon that all the European countries want the Syrians to stay in Lebanon, helping them to settle here. What do you think? I know that sometimes this is the perception but I want to be clear that this is not our goal in UK. Whenever we spoke to refugees they said they want to go back to Syria as soon as possible and we want to support that, it’s not sustainable for them to stay in Lebanon. Lebanon has coped magically this far but he is not going to be able to cope for many years longer. We want to work on how we can make Syria safe enough so that they can go back. We want that to happen as soon as possible. The support we are giving to the refugees here is not enough for them to want to stay forever.
Do you have a nice story to tell us about something you’ve experimented? Every time I go to a school and visit a classroom, it’s an overwhelming experience. I see those little kids, some of them learning for the first time, quite often sitting side by side with the Lebanese children. The Lebanese teachers I’ve met, mainly women, are so inspirational, they are working double hours, they are giving everything they have for these children without complaining, and that’s something I’ve never seen in any other country in the world. This inspired us to create a heroes campaign coming up.
What is the heroes campaign? We’re trying to promote the good side of Lebanon by finding some Lebanese heroes, people that have done some extraordinary things. They don’t have to be famous but through their work, they made a positive change. We are trying to identify a list of top ten of persons that we know. They could be adventurers, they could be runners, someone who really is a good ambassador for Lebanon, from all walks of life. We are trying to think collectively.
What else would you like to add about your job in Lebanon? This has been more than a job, this has been a mission and through doing this work, I’ve really fallen in love with this country. I’m very positive about it, I believe in this country and I believe in its potential. I am confident that he will come out of this crisis much stronger.
What’s going to be your mission in Jordan? Working on the refugee crisis to help the Jordanians cope with the crisis, a very similar role to the one here, and lots of ability to share experiences between the two countries. Conducted by Marcelle Nadim