This week, our Director Rachel Bentley and Head of UK Ben Wilkes have been visiting the project we support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The project is two tent schools inside two Syrian refugee camps in Bekaa Valley, which are designed to bring child friendly education to the children who live here.
The plight of Syrian refugees has been widely covered in the national and international news media. Since the original brutal suppression of political protests in March 2011, almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule.
The violent internal conflict has demolished entire neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes. 3.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries, with over a million of these ending up in Lebanon.
With a population of just 4 million themselves, the Lebanese have been struggling to accommodate the flood of new arrivals. Large camps are not permitted by the Lebanese government and as a result, throughout Bekaa Valley, small camps of 50-100 families have sprung up, many of which are still without basic services for children.
Walking around these camps this Monday, Rachel described the onset of colder weather and its potential impact: “Winter is on its way so conditions are worsening, the camps are a bit of a mud bath already as it was raining hard today. In a few weeks it will be snow so I can't imagine what surviving day to day will be like then. Many of the children were still wearing flip flops on their feet so they will need warm shoes for winter. Fortunately the school tents have stoves in so will remain warm, bright places whatever the conditions”.
In terms of education, the official UN policy has been to integrate Syrian children into Lebanese schools, but these are now at capacity, so there is a need for education within the camps. Although they are working to provide some informal education in the area, as a consequence of the ever increasing influx of refugees, this cannot extend to all of the Syrian camps in Bekaa Valley.
Children on the Edge are supporting our Lebanese partner, Al Rahma Al Mountassira, who provide health clinics and supplies to two camps. After setting up and running a successful tent school in one of these camps, we supported the establishment and running of a school in the second camp. This second tent school provides education to 74 children aged between 6-12 years.
Spending time in the schools Rachel said “The schools are very impressive. The classrooms are bright, warm, creative places for the children. The teachers are really creative in their approach and really engage well with the children, making learning fun. The schools are truly child friendly spaces; welcoming, safe and fun. The curriculum is even more developed than on my previous visit and the investment in teacher training is really noticeable. The classrooms have beautiful art work displayed and there is real evidence of each of them being stimulating learning environments”.
Where other projects of this kind bring in teachers from the outside, this model focusses on raising up refugee teachers from within the Syrian community, using Syrian materials. Whilst visiting, Ben talked to Kristen who has been instrumental in implementing this approach:
“Kirsten, who spent 7 years inside Syria before the troubles has been pivotal in changing the curriculum here in the camps. She has sourced Lebanese workbooks that are the most similar to those in Syria and then added her own spin. She uses Montessori techniques and lots of games and activities to help the children learn phonetics, language, maths, and science.
The feather in her cap, was that she has been able to get a few Syrian maths text books across the border to enable the children to learn like they do at home. It doesn't sound much, but the war in Syria has meant the local schools now struggle for equipment let alone getting materials. For a while the text books were banned from leaving the country, but these few that Kirsten obtained have now been photocopied and the Syrian teachers treat the copies like gold!
Kirsten’s love, care, attention and diligence has meant these children have something other children taking refuge in Lebanon don't have. It's just a small example, but because she has this approach across the board, it means that the school, the learning and therefore the experience of the children is first class. It's a brilliant refugee school.”
As the fun of Christmas approaches here in the UK, please spare a thought and make a donation to these refugee schools in Lebanon. The cold weather is encroaching more each day and Rachel explains how “There are many more camps in the area with no schools so we would love to help to see more open. It is not just about an education but creating places where children can be safe, warm and have fun to take their minds off the terrible conditions they are living in and the terrible conditions they have escaped from in Syria”.
Please consider donating to this project as part of your Christmas giving.