Hessen Sayah

Professional Social Worker, Manages the Centre's Migrants Protection Project at Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC)

Active in Country: Lebanon

DTP Alumna: 2012 Migrant Workers Program - Lebanon

 

 

Hessen took part in DTP’s 2012 Migrant Workers’ Program in Beirut, organised together with Migrant Forum Asia and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre designed to support migrant workers’ rights advocates in the Middle East.

Hessen Sayah, a professional social worker, joined the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre in 2003. Caritas is one of a number of NGOs in Lebanon that have stepped in to provide help and services to migrant workers. Migrant workers in Lebanon come from Africa and Asia, including the Philippines, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  Many are brought as domestic workers, and are very vulnerable. Often, they have their passports taken by their employer.  To leave an abusive employer without their permission, means becoming an “undocumented” worker without legal residence.  Today, Hessen manages the Centre’s Migrants Protection project, following up individual cases of migrant workers’ rights abuses across Lebanon with a professional team of social workers and lawyers. She also coordinates advocacy and lobbying efforts with a wide range of stakeholders and local authorities.

When I first came to the CLMC (Caritas Lebanon Migrants Center) office as an intern, I saw a quote from the Book of Matthew on my supervisor's desk.  "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."  For the next few days, I reflected on that verse, and took my decision to dedicate my life as a social worker to migrants and refugees in my country.  Since that moment, I have felt that my work was not a job, but a mission.

In our everyday work, we social workers build personal relationships with migrants and refugees, and work in partnership with them to resolve their difficulties. We know each and every one of their stories, their needs, and--most importantly, the person behind them. This has helped to create a high degree of trust between the social workers and our beneficiaries. We've seen time and again how our beneficiaries trust us to tell their most difficult problems, like sexual and gender-based violence, which they might not reveal to others.

 

They come to CLMC before anywhere else because they know our name and trust in the quality and confidentiality of our work.  But earning that trust requires daily effort. My team and I are meticulous in our work and ensure that we stay to the highest standards of service. Every day, we balance very high workloads and the need to be precise and accurate in our work. We work long hours, we get frustrated at times, we juggle many demands, but in all of work, I can say it's all done from a genuine caring for each and every person who comes to ask our assistance. They all deserve the very best service, and we take pride in serving them in the very best way we can.

 

The Kafala (sponsorship) system affects millions of migrant workers in the Middle East, making them even more vulnerable to abuse by employers and officials. Lebanon’s estimated 250,000 migrant workers are mostly women from developing countries in Asia and Africa – terribly vulnerable to discrimination, oppressive or unsafe working conditions, abusive employers and other human rights abuses. Conditions for some have been described as modern-day slavery.

My family and friends couldn’t understand why I wanted to work with refugees and migrants. But in time, they came to be proud of my work. At CLMC we know every one of the stories of the migrants and refugees who come to us for assistance and we come to know the person behind those stories. This helps create a high degree of trust in us and the work we do and we take pride in serving them in the very best way we can.

 

Profile was part of 2015 DTP's 25th Anniversary Exhibition