Ihsan Zaghmout

Student, Lebanon

Ihsan is a Palestinian 19 year old, living in Tripoli, Lebanon. Despite being born in Lebanon, and having never visited Palestine, he is classified as a refugee. According to 2016 statistics from UNHCR, there are over 504,000 registered Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon, often in difficult social and living conditions. 

Growing up in Beddawi
Ihsan grew up in Beddawi Camp, an overpopulated hilltop, 5 kilometers outside of Tripoli. There, he and his younger brother attended one of few local primary schools. However, in 2007, when Ihsan was just 8 years old, the destruction of nearby Nahr el-Bared Palestinian Camp during fighting between the Lebanese armed forces and militant group, Fatah Al-Islam, led to Beddawai’s population almost doubling overnight.

With the majority of the camp’s population aged between 13–25 and only one accessible, UNRWA-run secondary school, young people suffered. Aggression, fights and negativity were commonplace and Ihsan was bullied as a result. The young people in his school were distracted, perhaps by their situation or perhaps as many young people are; by friends, latest trends; the opposite sex.
 
Young love
Around the age of 16, Ihsan got a girlfriend. The relationship was intense: “I got distracted, I was very emotional from this relationship, it got to me. We were having so many fights, I was thinking about it a lot and not thinking about any other things, like my parents who were angry at me for not studying.”
 

When we broke up, I just wanted to do something to love myself because I hated myself so much. I felt so weak, so I just wanted to do something that made me proud [of myself]. Something that made my parents proud.

 

Ihsan started reading books. He says that such a simple thing had a profound impact on his life. He picked up a copy of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and absorbed the messages within it. He began searching for ways to develop himself and his interests. He had been intrigued the social media influencers and entrepreneurs that he saw online, such as Gary Vaynerchuck, who had built their businesses from scratch. Ihsan took a 1 month course in affiliate marketing but found little economic opportunities for it in Lebanon. Making money wasn’t going to be so easy.

Starting a life with a scholarship
In 2017, trying to keep his options open and his head level, he enrolled at Tamkeen Vocational Institute in Tripoli, in an Accounting TVET course. The fees were expensive and put a strain on his family, but they insisted in paying so that Ihsan could continue on the right path. Ihsan soon heard about the scholarships that SPARK offers to vulnerable youth but thought they were only available to Syrian refugees. Upon realising he was eligible, the financial burden lifted from his parents was a relief. Additionally, the stipends he received allowed him to purchase the necessary items to further develop his career — he saved them up and bought a camera, which he now uses to produce the videos for his own YouTube channel.

Becoming a civic leader 
As part of the wholistic scholarship offered to Ihsan, and over 3,500 other students currently enrolled across Syria (SIG), Turkey, Iraq (KR-I), Jordan and Lebanon, he was offered the opportunity to enrol in Economic Empowerment and Civic Leadership courses. Ihsan says that the Civic Leadership classes in particular — which give youth the tools to start their own community initiatives and be engaged in the wider world around them — helped him to become more sociable. He was part of a group engaging local hair salons in encouraging their clients to donate their hair to turn into wigs for children with cancer.
 

I learnt that it’s okay to tell people your emotions, rather than always try to appear strong. I also learnt how to work as part of a team.

 
Man of the house

Ihsan’s studies will come to an end this summer, and when asked what he sees next for his future, his face lights up.

Entrepreneurship is basically happiness. You’re doing something for yourself. I want to have my own business, I want to have money to spend on my family.

His father recently passed away, making him the man of the household — a tall responsibility for a 19 year old. He is however, unfazed by the challenges ahead and is determined to make his late father proud.

Armed with his camera in-hand, a strong education under his belt and the experiences of someone wise beyond his years, Ihsan is carving out his place in the world, namely on YouTube. You can find him at ZagaTV; creating entertainment videos with his friends, documenting his daily life, and even interviewing SPARK Director, Yannick du Pont!

You can also follow his journey for the next week as he takes over the SPARK Instagram account using the hashtag #StudentTakeover.


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