Lebanon, despite its tiny size, packs a cultural wallop. The country’s geographic location, perched on the edge of Asia with its toes in the Mediterranean Sea, offers volunteers in Lebanon a glimpse into the diversity of cultural and religious influences that have captivated visitors for millennia. Most volunteer projects in Lebanon are situated on the coast, but the country’s compact size allows for easy access to other parts of the country. Over 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently seek assistance in Lebanon, creating a tremendous need for volunteer help. Volunteer abroad in Lebanon and enjoy access to glitzy cities, beautiful beaches, mouthwatering cuisine, and unparalleled ancient history
Most volunteer opportunities in Lebanon are located in the major population centers on the Mediterranean coast. Occasional volunteer opportunities in rural areas do exist; however, the security situation degrades as one moves inland and towards the Syrian border. Regardless, Lebanon’s compact size allows for easy access from a volunteer home base to other parts of the country through the extensive (and cheap!) bus system.
Beirut. Lebanon’s frenetic and fashion-conscious capital is one of the oldest cities in the world (inhabited for 5000 years). Nicknamed “Paris of East,” Beirut was deeply scarred during the civil war which ended in 1990, and is steadily enticing visitors with a booming food scene, cutting-edge design, and funky, bohemian neighborhoods. This ancient seaport is home to between 1-2 million people and is the most cosmopolitan and religiously diverse city in Lebanon.
Sidon. Also called Saida, Sidon is the third largest city (approximately 65,000 people) in Lebanon. Located 25 miles from Beirut, Sidon literally translates to “fishing town,” referencing its still active fishing industry. Over 18,000 students learn at the many educational institutions in Sidon, which includes 10 universities. Residents of Sidon are comprised of a local Sunni majority, therefore volunteers should expect a more conservative culture than neighboring Beirut, and should dress appropriately.
Tyre. This ancient Phoenician city (approximately 117,000 residents) located 50 miles from Beirut, is a major tourism center, featuring Lebanon’s best beaches, as well as the Roman Hippodrome, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Volunteer opportunities in Lebanon are typically aimed at reducing poverty through empowering individuals, through refugee assistance, and communities, through microfinance and lending.
Refugee Assistance. Approximately 1 in 4 persons in Lebanon are refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria. Additionally, 400,000 Palestinians live in refugee camps in Southern Lebanon. The majority of refugees in Lebanon are living well below the Lebanese extreme poverty line and have difficulty meeting basic needs. Volunteers are desperately needed for projects serving these vulnerable populations through teaching English, and professional subjects such as graphic design and entrepreneurship.
Microfinance. Microfinance works a bit differently in Lebanon than in other countries where the emphasis is placed on entrepreneurship. In Lebanon, these programs emphasize the economic sustainability of entire communities. Volunteers will work in training and development of e-commerce strategies, new products, and mobile apps. Basic Arabic language skills are required for some of these roles, but office volunteer opportunities exist for those without language skills.
Costs to participate in volunteer programs in Lebanon range from receiving a living stipend, to a program cost of $300-$600/week. Typically, these program costs cover accommodation and orientation, or any needed training. Meals may be provided by the host family or organization. However, healthy, fresh, and aromatic food can be found in Lebanon in abundance. Street food such as falafel, shish kabobs, and creative juice combinations (such as mint, avocado, and pomegranate!) are enjoyed by locals and tourists alike and cost just a few dollars.
Flights to Lebanon and travel insurance are usually the responsibility of volunteers. Many international airlines fly directly to Beirut from Europe and regional public transportation systems are cheap and dependable. To cover the bulk of some of the costs, reach out to your friends and family for your good cause with FundMyTravel.
Check out GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory for more resources available to defray costs of volunteering abroad in Lebanon.
Accommodation options for volunteer participants in Lebanon are varied dependent on the organization. Homestays with local families may keep costs down while deepening your experience of typical life in Lebanon. Other programs have secured group apartments to be shared with other volunteers. Certain programs may require the participant to secure their own accommodation such as a private apartment or hotel.
Residents of EU, USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK can obtain a one-month visa on arrival into any Lebanese port-of-entry such as the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. The visa is renewable for three months.
If you have an Israeli visa/stamp in your passport, or answer “Yes” to inquiries regarding any previous visits to Israel, you will be denied entry into Lebanon. The Go Abroad Embassy Directory can provide further details.
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A Historical Perspective. Lebanon’s rich archaeological record is a perfect way to put a historical perspective on the present. Ancient Greek temples and Roman complexes will awe you with their preservation and remind you that this region has held witness to both culture and conflict for millennia.
Islam & Conservative Culture. As you jump into Lebanese customs, be aware that much of the country practices the Islamic religion and follows a conservative way of life. Be respectful of religious and spiritual beliefs. Don’t dress for the weather; rather, follow the unspoken rule of keeping your shoulders and knees covered.
LGBT volunteers may still experience difficulties in Lebanon despite enjoying relatively more freedom than in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world. Negative attitudes, particularly outside of Beirut and among older generations, persist.
Lebanon is a country that combines chaos with culture, and outstanding natural beauty with the scars from civil war. As this country emerges from its own conflict, volunteer in Lebanon and discover why visitors have flocked to this vibrant country for thousands of years. From frolicking in sundrenched beach resorts, to snacking on Manakish in Beirut, volunteering in Lebanon is a chance to experience this intoxicating blend while contributing to the critical work of tending to the most pressing humanitarian needs today.