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Friends for Life

06.05.2018 | Lebanon
Supporting youth employability. The Umdasch Foundation and Doka Lebanon started a mentoring project with SOS Children’s Villages in Lebanon. Four employees of Doka Lebanon accompany children from difficult situations on their journey towards independence. Regular meetings and shared activities provide support.


Somebody must help these young people! Andrea El Khoury, Lama Ayache, Alain Hantouche and Maher Merhi all agreed on that immediately last spring when they first heard about the opportunity by Umdasch Foundation (Umdasch Group is Doka’s parent company) to support young people from SOS Children’s Villages on their journey towards independence, but at that stage the four employees of Doka Lebanon had not yet planned on becoming actively involved as mentors.

“I didn’t know what mentoring was, so I first had to Google it,” remembers Andrea El-Khoury who took over the project on site. Nonetheless, the determined 27-year-old was full of enthusiasm and inspired her fellow colleagues with her eagerness. The first meeting was organised promptly and the four mentoring couples were set up. “You cannot imagine how much we all enjoy working with these young people. Our mentees always ask us when we are going to meet up again,” continues Andrea. All the same, it was a completely new experience for both sides.

“At the beginning I was nervous; I didn’t know what I should say about myself,” says Hadia”, who has been meeting Andrea regularly since then. It seems hard to imagine that when you meet the lively eighteen-year-old schoolgirl. She looks relaxed and confident as she gazes into the camera. The words come out in a rush when Stephanie interviews her in a video.“Now I’m quite relaxed, it’s as if I were meeting my sister. I have learnt a lot from Andrea about life, not just about my education,” she comments.

“The most important thing I try to give her is the message that when she suffers a setback she must pick herself up again and carry on,”says Andrea. She has experienced directly that “life is not a bed of roses,” as she puts it. At the age of 17 she moved alone from a little village to Beirut, a metropolis with over a million inhabitants, in order to study. It was a brave decision because everything was quite different from at home and her parents were far away. She had to take on casual jobs in order to finance her studies.

Next year Hadia will also leave her home in Abrah, a little mountain village, in order to study in Beirut. For the schoolgirl it will be an important first step towards standing on her own feet. She has been living in the SOS Children’s Village for 12 years. Here she has found a new family and a home. Andrea will also be supporting her on her journey towards independence. “I am trying to prepare her to face the challenges which she will encounter in Beirut as a girl living alone. She will find it is a completely new environment,” she says. Together they have already found suitable study courses for Hadia. “I originally wanted to become a doctor. I was mainly thinking about the salary, and I wanted people to see me as being somebody important. I have learned from Andrea that I should choose the profession that interests me the most and that it is not important what other people think”. Now she is wondering about studying the humanities, which appeals to her more.

Also Andrea’s colleagues Alain, Lama and Maher provide their mentees with advice and practical help. During their meetings the main topic is the future and the education of the young people, but personal factors are also important. The four mentoring couples have been meeting for the past six months. It began as a small pilot project and today it is an important fixed point in the lives for all eight of them. Nonetheless, the mentoring programme is still in its early stages and will be expanded further, however, Andrea and Hadia have already decided that they will remain in contact because, as both of them point out, they have found in each other “friends for life”.

Mentor Lama Ayache, Head of Finance

Lama Ayache, Doka Lebanon’s Head of Finance was paired with 17-year-old Soha, a shy and engaging young woman who was excited to start the mentoring programme. “She’s an excellent listener and while she is still a little reserved to express her opinion, you can tell she has a lot to offer,” remarked Lama. “She had a lot of potential to discover her strengths and so I spent a lot of time helping her to define her goals and shape how she can achieve them.”

Soha was amongst the SOS mentees to visit Doka and while it was apparent that she wasn’t interested in the construction industry, she was interested to understand the internal operations of the company and how we interact with one another. After further meetings, Lama discovered Soha was interested in Psychology, and would like to study it at university.

“During our time together, we discuss a variety of topics ranging from her studies, what she wants to achieve, and about life in general. From my point of view, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Soha and to provide her with various insights. I hope to have children of my own someday and I feel this has helped to prepare me for what that might be like.”

Mentor Maher Mantouche, Head of Engineering,

“We met once month on weekends, usually Saturday mornings,” said Maher. “Typically we go for brunch or breakfast and discuss what he’s doing at university. I enjoy reading and have found much solace in the thoughts and ideas of others, as such I leant him a copy of ‘The seven habits of highly effective people,’ by Stephen Covey, which we also discussed in great detail. Since meeting Rabih, I feel we’ve developed a good friendship and we are able to discuss things that I believe contribute towards his decision-making abilities as a young adult.”

Mentor Alain Hantouche, Senior Engineer

Alain Hantouche was paired with Ellie, an ambitious 18-year-old studying business and economy and who had already found a part-time job as a personal trainer. “Ellie has many interests, particularly in sports. He’d worked hard to achieve his role as a personal trainer and had made efforts to help some of his contemporaries to take a greater interest in health and fitness,” said Alain.

“Upon our first meeting he was interested to understand the nature of Doka’s business and in particular whether it was financially rewarding! I explained to him that finding a career with purpose and meaning to him personally would be far more rewarding than a bigger paycheck for a job you dislike.”

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