- Céline Arslane is a young woman entrepreneur from Lebanon who believes that education and mental health are fundamental human rights.
- Lebanon’s deep economic crisis is forcing many students to work for a living and drop out of university.
- Céline started a platform to offer flexible online tutoring to Lebanese university students. She hopes to incorporate more mental health components in the future.
- Céline joined the UNITAR Great Ideas Space 2022: Entrepreneurship for Public Health and COVID-19 Recovery Programme.
- The programme was “life-changing”, encouraging Céline to step out of her comfort zone and gain confidence.
29 May 2023, Hiroshima, Japan - Nineteen-year-old Céline Arslane has a dream: to become a human rights activist and provide psychological support to refugees and war survivors. She wants to help people as others helped her.
When Céline was nine, she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a mental illness where anxiety about everyday events and problems strongly impacts a person’s life.
But getting mental health care has not been easy in Lebanon. Growing up, Céline often felt like psychologists were the only people who understood her. It inspired her to pursue a degree in psychology at her university.
Economic crisis and student mental health
At university, Céline sees the young people in Lebanon going through a difficult time. Lebanon has been in a deep economic crisis for several years, made all the worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. All around her, Céline sees students dropping out of school to earn a living.
Even among those who remain in university, many skip classes to go to work and fall behind in their studies. In a negative spiral, the stress – of having to earn money and keep up their studies – further hampers the students’ academic performance. Céline experienced this herself.
This is not something that teenagers should worry about. They should live their teenage years.
Supporting university students
Céline believes that education and mental health are fundamental human rights. One day, she was talking about it with her friend. Her friend asked why she didn’t put her ideas into action, merging mental health and education.
That was the spark Céline needed to create a platform to offer university students flexible online tutoring. The tutoring would fit around the students’ work schedules and help them continue their studies.
The challenges of being a young businesswoman
The biggest thing that makes her work challenging is discrimination. First, she’s a woman and – while attitudes are evolving – many people still expect women to leave the business to men.
Second, she is young. Céline says she knows she does not have the same amount of experience a 40-year-old man might have, but “that doesn’t mean I don’t have potential, that I’m dumb.” She has her knowledge and experiences, and she is always learning more.
When they see a young entrepreneur, pitching their project, they don’t take you seriously, she says.
And third, mental health itself is a heavily stigmatized topic in Lebanon. “If you tell people you’re going to a therapist, they’re like ‘Oh, therapy is just for “crazy” people’”, she says. “It’s very, very wrong.”
Entrepreneurship training with UNITAR
Hoping to learn about market strategies and how to secure funding for her startup, the young entrepreneur joined the UNITAR Great Ideas Space 2022: Entrepreneurship for Public Health and COVID-19 Recovery Programme.
The programme trained entrepreneurs from Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to design and implement businesses or projects that address challenges coming out of the pandemic, especially in public health. Over 100 young entrepreneurs from the three countries learned the basics of entrepreneurship and innovation through online workshops and webinars.
For the final phase, the top 20 learners were selected to join a 10-day in-person workshop in Hiroshima, Japan. Céline was one of just four people picked from Lebanon.
Forming connections and confidence in Hiroshima
Initially, she feared the in-person training would get competitive because the participants were all young entrepreneurs fighting to build their businesses. But she was surprised to find everyone supportive and friendly. She values the interactions and the new viewpoints the participants and coaches showed her.
But it was not just new business knowledge that she learned. By encouraging her to step out of her comfort zone, Céline says the UNITAR programme helped her gain confidence and recognize her capabilities. She calls the experience “life-changing”.
Aiming to change lives
Returning to her country, Céline plans to put to use what she learned about customer acquisition and market entry. Securing funds and going to market are her next steps.
Her vision for her platform is to incorporate more mental health support, potentially collaborating with therapists. She is ready to explore – including finding ways to work with her UNITAR cohort.
Supporting young people to access education while promoting mental health, she says, brings her one step closer to her dream of being a human rights advocate.
I want to reach as many young people as possible. I want to create a safe place. I want them to feel like they’re not alone in the journey.
As UNITAR Hiroshima celebrates its 20th anniversary, Céline calls upon UNITAR to reach many more young people. She believes UNITAR will get young people out of their comfort zones and help them to believe in themselves – as it did with her.
The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a United Nations agency that promotes decision-making for a better future through training individuals and groups. Established in 1963, UNITAR reached 370,139 learners through its courses in 2021. In addition to its headquarters in Geneva, UNITAR has offices in New York, Hiroshima, and Bonn, as well as other networks around the world. UNITAR Division for Prosperity shares world-class knowledge and skills related to entrepreneurship, leadership, trade and finance, digital technologies, and disarmament. Especially from its Hiroshima Office and in training for learners from conflict and post-conflict countries, UNITAR incorporates Hiroshima’s rise from the atomic bombing to the current peaceful city as a model of reconstruction. In 2019, the UNITAR Association was established as a public support organization in Japan. It supports UNITAR through publicity and awareness-raising in Japan.
United Nations Online Volunteer Rebecca Rentzsch contributed to this article.