Downton’s Lady Edith helps Syria’s refugee children catch up on lost education

Downton’s Lady Edith helps Syria’s refugee children catch up on lost educationimage

10 Jun 2015

Actress Laura Carmichael has flown to Lebanon with Gordon and Sarah Brown visiting Syrian refugees with the A World At School campaign

The actress has flown to Lebanon during her only week off from filming the sixth and final series of Downton. Swapping Lady Edith’s 1920s gowns for casual wear, she is in the Bekaa Valley visiting Syrian refugees with the A World At School campaign.

On the same trip is Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

His wife Sarah is the co-founder of A World At School, a global campaign working to get every boy and girl into school. This week it is calling on world leaders to back a fund to ensure children trapped in emergencies do not miss out on education.

“Gordon is doing all the important meetings,” Laura says.

But hers are invaluable too, meeting hundreds of children in tented settlements, listening to their hopes and dreams.

The four-year Syrian conflict has led to the worst refugee crisis in 20 years. There are 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, one third of them children.

With no chance of going home as things stand, they desperately need a safe place to be, and a chance of education.

“Children shouldn’t be missing school because of a conflict that’s not of their making,” she says. “It’s their right to be at school.”

In Lebanon there are no official refugee camps for Syrians, so they don’t have UNHCR white tents. Instead, families have to find a way to survive in a valley which is burning hot in summer and freezing in winter. Many are missing fathers who have stayed behind in Syria to fight, or have been killed in the war.

“Many houses are made out of sticks torn from old movie posters,” says Laura. “So you see a house with a Disney poster on the side but children don’t have space to be children.”

The fertile Bekaa Valley, known for its vineyards, has no shortage of labouring jobs in the fields. But they are not open to Syrians, so any children who work do so illegally.

“The amazing thing about kids is that they still have the energy to play and be playful, even when their toys are basically nails sticking out of bits of wood. But they are all so desperate to learn and go to school.”

“I met a 12-year-old boy called Sharbal who told me how much he loved films. When I asked him about coming here his face totally changed. He looked so frightened I didn’t like to think what he must have been through.

“He was so gorgeous. And he’s one of those going to school now. I’m sure he can be the movie star he dreams of.”

The Downton filming schedule is gruelling, but Sarah inspired her enough to want to spend her only break in Lebanon.

“It’s shocking that of the 58 million kids out of school, 28 million are out because of conflicts and disasters,” says Laura.

“Yet less than one per cent of emergency funds are being spend on education. The Syrian crisis and Ebola have had a huge impact. So as much as I like pulling faces and reading plays, this seems really important.”

“We need to see that generations of children in Syria and around the world don’t pay the price of needless wars, earthquakes and other emergencies,” says Laura. “These are the most vulnerable children in the world.”