1) We are proud to have you on board with The Volunteer Circle! Tell us a little bit about your NGO and the wonderful work that you do.
Arcenciel is a huge local NGO established in 1985 during the civil war to work mainly with older people with difficulties. We essentially have 5 main programs:
1) Agriculture and environment which is all about producing milk and cheese in our factory, as well as planting organic produce. We do other projects for sustainable farming and agriculture, such as biopesticides. You can learn more about it on our website.
2) Another program we have deals with the environment, everything related to recyclable waste, treatment of hospital and medical waste, which we do ourselves. We collect recyclables from households and companies, which we then sell to recycling companies. We have other projects within the environmental program itself dealing with renewable energy, biogas and more, which are currently being studied.
3) We have social programs providing services such as clothes and medicine to people with difficulties. We go to households to assess the beneficiaries in order to provide customized services.
4) We also have a mobility program which relates to production of technical aid needed by people with disabilities such as wheelchairs, crutches, water mattresses, orthopedic shoes and so on. We also do adaptation and infrastructure accessibility for houses in order to accommodate disabled people.
5) We also provide employment services for people with disabilities such as job matching, vocational training, as well as inclusion training for companies.
Apart from these five main programs, we have the youth program for youth at risk, such as the rainbow club, a youth club where the young can gather and share ideas and information while staying out of the streets. We have Cirquecenciel, a circus art school where these youth can practice juggling and other circus activities.
In Taaneyel, we have a tourism project on a big land with three lakes, spaces for cycling, meditation, walking, and horseback riding in an aim to promote tourism. We have the ecolodge in Taaneyel as well with small houses, built with mud in the old fashioned way of construction to maintain the heritage and transmit it to the new generation.
We also have a restaurant called Khal Maksoud serving traditional Lebanese food near these houses, and women from vulnerable societies run this kitchen and learn to cook and potentially become financially independent by learning new skills.
2) Have you always encouraged volunteers to be part of your team before The Volunteer Circle? Or is this something recent?
In the beginning, when Arcenciel first started in 1985, everyone on the team was a volunteer. We try as much as possible to always welcome volunteers as integral parts of our culture. One thing to mention is that most of our current staff actually started out as volunteers, and later on became permanent staff.
3) What do you believe are the benefits/added values of having volunteers on board that is different than hiring more staff?
Volunteers are very important to our culture. The idea of giving without expecting anything in return is celebrated and embedded in our organization. Even when we welcome staff, we instill in them these values in order for them to internalize and spread them to other people around them. We have also learnt that we gain a lot of experience from our volunteers, most of which have prior experience in volunteering. They come in with new ideas and contagious enthusiasm to share with the team.
4) Where did you hear about The Volunteer Circle? How was the experience working with the volunteers you found through our platform?
We were approached by TVC around a year ago via email, and my curiosity led me to check out your website and register shortly after. Our experience with your volunteers is very good! Several of the volunteers reached through the TVC platform have exceeded our initial expectations and worked from the bottom of their hearts to further our agenda. They did not complain, they came and left on time, and had great work ethic. We had a couple of volunteers who did not work out due to time issues, but the majority were great.
5) What would you tell other NGOs about your experience working with volunteers through The Volunteer Circle? Would you encourage it?
Of course, I will always encourage NGOs to use TVC and volunteers to help out. They have eagerness to work and reach the mission NGOs strive for. So far, the spirit has been lovely.
6) What was the most significant accomplishment of a volunteer working with your organization through The Volunteer Circle?
We have two cases that we want to highlight, namely Aya and Farah Maria. Farah Maria was supposed to call beneficiaries and companies to inform them about our employment programs and she managed to convince them to include disabled people as their employees, and actually exceeded our expectations in terms of numbers and contacts.
7) Will you use The Volunteer Circle to find more volunteers? Are the personalized features of the platform helpful to make the process more efficient?
Yes, we will continue to include volunteers in our programs, especially through TVC. The process and features were very helpful although I would also suggest that volunteers can upload their CVs which would help them in regard to the work that can benefit them. For example, someone with a graphic design background or education could apply to help sort clothes, but if I have his/her CV, I could assign him/her some graphic design work or internship which Arcenciel needs. That way, we benefit from his/her graphic skills, and in return, he/she increase their experience with relevant work.
8) What do you hope to achieve in terms of development in Lebanon or in terms of the SDGs?
We have a couple of SDGs that we are working on, some which we have managed to excel in such as those dealing with the environment, decent work, hunger relief, and so on. We hope to achieve a sustainable environment, completely stop the use of plastic, start using secondhand clothes, collaborate with upcycling businesses, and so on. Most importantly, we hope to provide disabled people with work opportunities… We are working very hard to change the Lebanese mindset around this issue.
9) What do you think hinders or limits the work of the third sector in Lebanon? How do you think this issue can be resolved?
The issue is the government. First, we do not have the right legislations. Second, in the cases where we do have them, they are not applied. Third, although I am not very political, I know that authorities are busy with corruption and that they do not prioritize humans and human rights. The third sector is not their priority and it is being pushed into the background. We have reached a point where we now target people’s awareness and try to change their mindset rather than change legislation because we have realized that that is actually more achievable. I believe, however, that we have managed to change a lot of things since 2000 such as the rights that disabled people deserve and need.
10) Any words of wisdom for aspiring volunteers in Lebanon who want to work with you or any other NGO?
I would advise volunteers to volunteer for the love of the cause first, not for personal interest in the long run. Second, love what you are doing because only then will you do it efficiently and manage to benefit others. Keep that rare spirit of volunteerism and don’t let it vanish. Finally, don’t only volunteer at a young age, but also later when you have more skills and things to offer. At Arcenciel, we have older volunteers in their 60s, and their missions in those cases are more specialized and integral to our NGO.
11) Any words of wisdom for NGOs looking to incorporate volunteers to the team?
First, make sure to assign a task/mission that the volunteer would benefit from and do wholeheartedly. Make sure the volunteer knows the mission so he/she can internalize it and talk and spread and transmit it to others and spread the message.