Since its establishment in 2006, SAWA (together) has been dedicated to the social, agricultural and educational development of the inhabitants of the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon's most important farming region. The organisation mainly assists women, children and the underprivileged. The organisation also has a strong focus on environmental issues, and organises environmental programmes and projects in Beirut and the Beqaa.
Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, which has seen a huge influx of refugees into Lebanon, SAWA has begun to work on the social issues associated with the crisis, such as child marriage and violence against women. The association believes that its programs helps to make the Bekaa a better place, both socially and environmentally, for the underprivileged Lebanese and Syrians living there and helps reduce tension. It works to raise awareness on the importance of the preservation of the natural resources as a means of peacebuilding between host communities and refugees who now celebrate World Environment Day in their camps.
SAWA works closely with the magazine Environment and Development, a leading environmental publication in the Arab world. SAWA cooperates in the magazine's workshop and publishes articles on environmental issues in the Beqaa.
The association organises annual reforestation and cleaning campaigns in different parts of the Beqaa Valley. SAWA has planted more than 50,000 conifer trees in the region as part of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Billion Trees Campaign. It has also planted 3,000 trees in six Syrian refugee camps in Bar Elias and the Bekaa.
SAWA has earned the Arab Environment Award from the UNEP in recognition of the success of its environmental work in Beirut and the Beqaa. The association has also participated in Children's Summit with UNEP in Malaysia, Norway, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia between 2006 and 2011.
Relying on its expertise as an environmental association, SAWA, in the wake of the garbage crisis in Lebanon in 2015, launched several projects to raise awareness on recycling and use waste in some art projects that involved Lebanese women and Syrian refugees in the Bekaa. The projects expended and became a means for financial empowerment for women who recycle plastic bags into crochet and embroidery. These women are also helped with vocational training and English courses.
The Syrian crisis
SAWA works to tackle the social issues related to the conflict in Syria, including child marriage and violence against women.
Child marriage is a common result of underprivileged living conditions, which forces some parents to marry off their daughters so that they do not have to pay for their living expenses. Nawal Mdallaly, the head of SAWA, conducted many seminars on the issue of early marriage for young refugees in camps in the Beqaa. The organization continues to empower young girls with education and training, as a practical means to fight early marriages among Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians.
To highlight everyone's right in access to education, especially young female refugees, SAWA organized in March 2019 a marathon in the Bekaa under the title "Run for Gender Equality".
In the light of its continuous work on this issue, SAWA joined in December 2017 GirlsNotBrides, a global partnership of 800 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their dreams. It also gained membership in Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures.
SAWA also held workshops for refugees in the Bekaa, many of whom come from Al Kousair, across the Syrian borders. Some of the workshops where conducted with refugees in Ersal, a poor area where the hard living conditions are becoming even harsher for refugees as the Lebanese army was engaged in a war with the Syrian extremist group, Jabhet An-Nousra infilitarated in the Bekaa. Those refugees are generally suffering from trauma and other issues related to the conflict. At first, the young refugees colored in black and drew disturbing pictures. Their drawings have become more colorful in later workshops.
SAWA also works to address the physical needs of the refugees in Ersal by distributing food and warm clothing. Occasionally it hosts a breakfast for hundred of children and their mothers at local schools. It brings famous Lebanese artists to informal camps of refugees to entertain them and make their living conditions known to everyone.
Capacity building and conflict resolutions techniques are taught to Lebanese and Syrian youth in the Bekaa. They are occasionally invited to joint lunch parties.
The association believes that Lebanese children should be engaged in helping their Syrian counterparts. It organised the Kilo Project, where Lebanese students donate one kilo of food and other living essentials to be distributed to the refugees and poor families in Tripoli.
Every Christmas, SAWA organises for hundred of gifts to be distributed by Santa Claus to children in Bar Elias refugee camps, the kids are also invited to free theatrical plays.
In October 2018, SAWA launched a campaign to enable Palestinian women to get free mammography tests after the national campaign for breast cancer awareness in Lebanon denied female refugees the right to access free tests. The organization occasionally runs fundraising events to support Syrian refugees in desperate need of heath assistance. It also sponsors visits of doctors to camps and villages in East Bekaa.