Louma Albik (right) and her aid organization have gone on to fund three schools in Lebanon | Photo: Private
Louma Albik (right) and her aid organization have gone on to fund three schools in Lebanon | Photo: Private

On International Women's Day, InfoMigrants spoke with Louma Albik, the Syrian-born founder of the humanitarian aid organization SB Overseas. Based in Brussels, the NGO funds schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and offers empowerment classes to women.

When Louma Albik decided to start a humanitarian organization it was her dream to help as many people as possible without giving them the feeling that they needed help. She wanted them to become independent and educated.

That was around eight years ago. SB Overseas, which began as a small community effort in the Belgian capital Brussels, has gone on to fund three schools in Lebanon, home to over 1.5 million Syrian refugees. It also offers vocational and empowerment courses to adults aimed at combating the practice of child marriage.

In Brussels it continues to run the SB Espoir project, a successful weekend integration program with unaccompanied minors living in asylum centers.

It's not hard to see why Louma Albik has received recognition for her work from the King and Queen of Belgium, as well as many other awards and honors. This International Women's Day she spoke to InfoMigrants’ Majda Boazza.

Louma Albik talking to children in a camp for displaced | Photo: Private
Louma Albik talking to children in a camp for displaced | Photo: Private


Louma Albik: "Children are our priority because we would like to save the lost generation that was affected by the war, but also to help the women, because most of the women have their own family and their own children. It’s like a circle – you can’t work with women without working with children, and as well as working with children, you should work with women. We highlight the rights of children, especially young girls who fight against early marriage and the culture that affects their life in difficult ways.

Women and children are the first victims of war, so we needed to create a program to help them to have a skill and to have a sustainable income. So most of the programs [we run] are about having skills and starting their own business, plus integration and building a bridge between different stakeholders from different backgrounds. Why?: because those kinds of activities help women around the world to empower themselves and to learn more from each other.

[As well as] empowerment, we also teach language and we also teach IT skills. Some of [the women] start to learn English, and I always get this question from people: ‘Why don’t women read in Arabic [instead of wanting] to read English?' The answer is because most of them receive information from the UN or other organizations in English. For example, in the host countries – in Lebanon or even in Europe – most of the time information is in English or even French, so they want to learn this language to be able to understand better. It’s a kind of necessity, not a luxury.

Louma Albik was honored by the Belgian King and Queen for her efforts | Photo: Private
Louma Albik was honored by the Belgian King and Queen for her efforts | Photo: Private

Empowering the whole community

I can see the impact of our program on the lives of women around the world, not just migrants and refugees. For example, we can see how it affects not just the lives of women, but the family as well as the community. For example, after they have finished their programs they start to lead in their community and to empower other women in their community.

Our national and international program is a very important and very successful key for building a bridge of communication between different stakeholders [and] building resilience between everyone. Because ignorance of others is a very dangerous way to start hating and not trusting other people from different cultures.

A painting by one of the refugee women that Louma Albik's organization has helped | Photo: Private
A painting by one of the refugee women that Louma Albik's organization has helped | Photo: Private

'I am honored by a woman who fights for the rights of her child'

I was honored by the King of Belgium for my work with different women from different backgrounds and different cultures, including from the UK, on International Women’s Day two years ago, and I have received other national and international honors.

I think the most important honor for me is when I see the smile on the face of a woman who started their own business and started to empower or lead other women. I think it’s also when I see a lady who fights for her rights and the rights of her child to stop early marriage.

I am honoured when I can see that we find a place for children to restart school and to go back to school. And I am honoured by [media] like you, because for me talking about our work is to inspire other people to start getting involved in the humanitarian field and to work and to help.

Believe in yourself

Most of the difficulties that we face are related to the resistance from women when they integrate in our program, because they are afraid to start something new and maybe some of them have lost trust and belief in themselves. 

I think the story is a powerful key to changing a woman’s life. Because you can write and you can talk a lot, but if you give them one real example, one real story, they can change their mind and they can believe in themselves and do something other than just sitting and regretting their life.

On International Women’s Day I always like to highlight successful stories from different backgrounds – migrant backgrounds, international background, refugee backgrounds – to empower and improve the lives of women and to give them hope that nothing is impossible. We can do a lot if we believe in ourselves.

My message is: Believe in yourself. You can do it! Tomorrow will be better if we start today. And women around the world should stick together to improve not just their lives, but also the lives of everyone, and to build a better future and a better world, for women, for children and for everyone. So let’s work together, and let’s start!"

 

More articles

Webpack App