05 May 2015
Named for the Dutch Jesuit priest who was shot dead in April 2014 in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, the school is for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, a project of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
For some of the children, it is their first time ever attending school. Most have missed out on years of education due to the conflict in Syria, now in its fifth year.
The tiny country of Lebanon, roughly the size of Delaware, is hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. That’s the equivalent of 80 million refugees coming into the United States, stated United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on April 15. Prior to the onslaught of waves of refugees, Lebanon’s population was around 4 million. Now, roughly one in every four people is a Syrian.
Thousands of Christian Iraqi families have also come to Lebanon since the Islamic State’s takeover of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain last summer. In March, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that there were more school-age refugees in Lebanon than the entire intake of the country’s public schools.
The Frans van der Lugt Center is located in an old former private school that was no longer in use. JRS spruced up the site with vibrant, welcoming colors and décor.
The half-day program serves 350 students, about 300 of whom are Syrian Muslims and the rest Iraqi Christians. An afternoon session will begin soon to help meet the overwhelming demand for refugees who are missing out on school.
JRS operates two other school programs for refugees: in the coastal city of Byblos towards the north and in the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. Together, the three schools provide classes to some 1,000 children who previously had no opportunities for education.