07 Aug 2015
Children have borne a disproportionate burden of the hardships resulting from the Syrian conflict, now entering its fifth year without any sign of resolution. Some 350,000 school-aged refugee children in Lebanon have no access to educational services, putting them (along with many others in the region) at grave risk of becoming a “Lost Generation” who will lack the basic tools to rebuild their country when the civil war ends.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has led the way in providing vital education services to 5,000 of these children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and Akkar District. As space is limited in the country’s public schools and resources stretched, the IRC offers safe places where children can study six subjects—English, Arabic, mathematics, civics, science and geography—and supplies white boards, textbooks, even schoolbags. Many of these children are stepping into a classroom for the first time.
Communications specialist and former primary school teacher Sahar Chamseddine works with the IRC in raising awareness and providing information about the classes in the local community. Born in Lebanon, Sahar returned to the country in 2014 after years of living and working abroad.
As a community mobilizer with the IRC in Lebanon, I have witnessed many success stories involving children since I began working in the country a year ago. My experiences with the Bekaa education department have been particularly rewarding.
Instead of spending all day sweating in the potato fields, as many refugee families rely on their children to work in order to help them make ends meet, youngsters now are learning new skills and better ways to cope with the traumatic events of the past few years, not to mention the stress of their daily lives.
Teachers encourage these eager students to express their feelings in drawings and to share their thoughts in writing. We want them to realize that life does not stop when we encounter struggle, that we can find ways to move forward. We are helping them find solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems instead of resigning themselves to hopelessness.
I recently visited a school in Majdal Anjar, a village in central Bekaa, where every morning first graders stand to greet their teacher, Mariam Hussein. Since there are no formal refugee camps in Lebanon, most of these children live in makeshift camps, or in towns where their families can find affordable apartments.
One 6-year-old boy, Mohammad Azzam, whose shyness is belied by his infectious grin, told me why he smiles so much: “I like my teacher because she teaches me all subjects, and the IRC class because all my friends come from Syria and we can play together.”
His friend, Mohammad Fatti, is a bit more specific: “I like teacher because she teaches me about numbers, my favorite subject.” Raghad Hasna says her favorite subject is Arabic but she likes making friends, too: “I love this school because we always have the chance to play and make fun activities.”
The students’ goals are as varied as their enthusiasms. Mohammad Azzam dreams of being a doctor. Mohammad Fatti wants to be a teacher. Raghad sees herself working as a hairdresser in her aunt’s beauty salon. Her friend, Kawthar, wants to be an engineer.
“The students have made huge progress over the year,” says Mariam. “At the beginning, they could not distinguish letters, and now they have started reading words and sentences, and most of them are teaching each other!”
Ahed Amin, one of the IRC’s teacher trainers, notes that students struggling with basic literacy and numeracy skills are enrolled in a six-week catch-up program, particularly helpful to older children who have lost years of schooling to the war.
Mahmoud Bwary, manager of the IRC education program in Bekaa, adds that the IRC also works to build trust and commitment from the children’s parents: “We stay in touch with parents and establish parent committees who work as volunteers.”
In addition, the IRC conducts awareness sessions and encourages home visits by teachers and assistants. We help parents learn more about the value of education (and why it’s especially important during a crisis) and get involved in their child’s schooling through community meetings, parent committees and volunteering.
Having fled harm, having faced dangers most of us can’t imagine, these brave and resilient children have embraced hope, in part through IRC classes, where they can finally feel safe and secure and find a sense of normalcy and regularity missing in their young lives.
Syrian Refugee Crisis
With the brutal conflict in Syria now in its fifth year, the IRC is continuing to assist Syrian refugees and Syrians trapped inside their country by violence. We provide medical and other critical aid, ensure refugees have access to their legal rights and to education, and help women and girls who are victims of violence.