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Building Bridges with Sister Communities

Connecting Minnesotans with a Syrian refugee community in N. Lebanon to create a collaborative, sustainable model of holistic care.

Photo of Lindsey Smith
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

After eight years of war in Syria, the Lebanese government is no longer tolerating the burden of hosting the world's highest per capita concentration of refugees. The flood of refugees overwhelmed Lebanon's already debilitated infrastructure and stressed the citizens. Lebanese authorities are currently making their most aggressive campaign thus far, ordering the demolition of anything that could be a permanent home in refugee camps and cracking down on undocumented foreign labor. This strike makes survival for the more than one million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon nearly impossible. Many challenges face the displaced Syrian community in Lebanon including inadequate resources in the following areas: healthcare, nutrition, education, psychosocial support, shelter, safety, hope, purpose, and dignity. Humanitarian support is limited in the region. Due to budget cuts, NGOs have often failed to follow through on commitments and garnered distrust from the Syrian community. Short-term missions provide care that is needed but ultimately not commensurate with more complex conditions. As situations become more difficult, without a new approach to addressing their individual needs, Syrian families stranded in Lebanon are left with little hope. Our customized approach will focus on developing a partnership between "sister communities". To pilot this model, we will build a bridge between a network of supportive Minnesotans and a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. This network will directly address needs identified by camp residents by offering solutions that empower the community. Assisted by our Minnesotan sister community, beneficiaries will design and direct projects to address their most prominent needs. Projects may include tele-services, medical and dental care, psychosocial support, nutrition, sustainable farming, education, language skills, parenting support, childcare, individual skill-building, team development through athletics, and access to clean water.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

In destabilized Lebanon, Syrian refugees face insurmountable challenges as they struggle to provide for their families. Our ground team in Lebanon will utilize a community assessment survey to identify one Syrian refugee partner community based on its current conditions and needs for particular resources. Our focus will be in Northern Lebanon were resources are scarce. This project's success will provide a model for other similar under-resourced contexts and supportive networks.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Many Syrians in Lebanon want to return home but cannot currently do so safely. They need access to vital resources until they can return home. Our project will provide support through relationship-building with personal connections between the two sister communities, educational platforms, tele-services, and on-the-ground assistance.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We anticipate our project decreasing burdens of basic survival efforts and revitalizing possibilities to focus on hope, joy, and dignity. Meaningful engagement and social cohesion between sister communities will uplift and encourage all involved. Community empowerment projects could include female support groups, internet pen-pals, skill building, artwork with the potential to sell goods, play therapy for adults and children, well-equipped and safe play spaces, prayer room, and self-care techniques.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Volunteers in our program will utilize tele-medicine and regular medical missions to improve nutrition and health, eradicate intestinal worms, decrease the need for antibiotics, and increase immunization rates. Sustainable farming opportunities and access to baby formula for mothers unable to breastfeed will help alleviate malnutrition. We aim to increase the number of school-aged children accessing education either through Lebanese schools or camp schools. The camp community will be protected from the elements by weather-appropriate clothing, shoes, and housing. The mental health of the residents will be improved through tele-medicine psychiatric sessions, building of trusting relationships, skill building, and hope-filled human connections.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Lindsey Smith, NP, Aidan Gromoll, MD, and our ground team of six dedicated Syrian and Palestinian refugees piloted a medical project providing primary care to ten refugee camps in North Lebanon last winter. We focused on building trust, sustainable care, and follow-up care for complex medical conditions. Having previously found traditional short-term medical mission trips frustrating due to deficiencies in quality and sustainability, we chose to pilot a different approach. We witnessed drastic improvement in wellbeing among the people we served and were saddened when our project was not extended. We are determined that this more expansive model can continue to have positive impacts on the region. We take inspiration from Aamir Hussein, who wrote, "Helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person." We are energized to build bridges and connect communities toward increased wellbeing.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Settlements in N. Lebanon typically have 250 residents (52% female, 48% male) of which 50% are children. A male leader called a Shawish is appointed to each camp and makes all decisions regarding aid and humanitarian projects within a camp. Men are considered heads of household, yet many women currently assume the role in cases where Syrian men are missing or deceased. Men and women are often illegally employed as physical laborers in order to support their families. Some families navigate around obstacles to successfully enroll their children in school. Most families depend on their children to make money by working in the fields, selling items, or begging in the streets.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

During our pilot medical project last winter, we witnessed camp residents flourish as they developed relationships and built trust. We want to continue to partner with them as they pursue healthcare, employment and education. In Lebanon, our Syrian and Palestinian team members took immense pride in offering dignified service to their people and are committed to continuing this work. Many Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon are educated, skilled, and capable of strengthening their communities. Our Minnesota based team is experienced, passionate, and determined to serve. We have a vision for engaging the support of our wider local community to become part of our sister community network. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Among our group members, we have extensive project leadership and other volunteer experiences with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and Medglobal (both US based medical humanitarian NGOs). We are backed by Disaster Tech Lab, a technology specialist organization based in Ireland, for assistance with setting up technology for our tele-services. Psychiatrist Dr. Saleem Al Nuaimi will guide and support our tele-psych service model. Dr. Al Nuami has successfully pioneered an approach conducting an on-going tele-psychiatry services inside war torn and inaccessible regions of Syria. Additional professionals in the fields of medicine, education, mental-health, social service, and business have expressed interest in supporting our project. As our project moves forward, we will organize and collaborate with those community leaders.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

In-Sight Collaborative

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our on-the-ground team includes six Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. They function as nurse, lab-tech, translator, team leader, community relations specialist, driver and security specialist. Our Minnesota based team includes two registered nurses, two nurse practitioners, one pediatrician, two psychotherapists, one teacher, and one Syrian business owner and translator. All are highly qualified with extensive experience volunteering with refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere. We are partnering with In-sight, a Seattle based 501(c)(3) NGO, in order to receive tax-deductible donations from supporters. Madi Williamson, RN, founded In-Sight in order to engage a large network of experienced humanitarians in empowering partnerships with refugees. Williamson states on her website that In-sight "seeks to bring to light some of the largest and most difficult humanitarian crises our world faces." We are grateful for this partnership.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Seattle, Washington


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

Hi Lindsey Smith  great to have your idea on the platform for the challenge. It's exciting and I really like your idea. As the ideas phase comes to an end today the 17th of August, we would encourage you to again have a look at the evaluation criteria here

Also, it will be exciting for your to check out other ideas on the platform, provide some feedback and explore potential areas of collaboration with them. Check out the Migration Lab Program

Photo of Lindsey Smith

Thank you Bremley. Is this an automatic message or is there something you feel is missing from our project from meeting the criteria? I have reviewed the criteria and feel our project meeds the goals. I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything in your perspective. Thank you!