The ongoing conflict in Syria has created one of the most devastating and complicated humanitarian disasters of this generation. As the crisis enters its sixth year, OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has reported that 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.8 million are refugees and over 6.6 million have been internally displaced by violence.
Over 1.5 million of these refugees have ended up in Lebanon. With a population of just 4 million themselves, the Lebanese have the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, and have been been struggling to accommodate this flood of new arrivals.
Large refugee camps are not permitted by the Lebanese government and as a result, throughout Bekaa Valley, small refugee camps of 50-100 families have sprung up, many of which are still without basic services for children, including education.
The Lebanese Government have been working with the UN to provide education for all. The main policy of the Lebanese Ministry of Education has been to enrol refugees into the existing public education system, channelling all international funding to existing school rehabilitation, creating a 2nd shift provision for refugees and encouraging integration.
This has not been without its problems. In many areas refugees vastly outnumber the Lebanese students and there is not the capacity to provide for everyone who needs it. Within the rural Bekaa Valley, public schools are sporadically placed, meaning that access to them is difficult, especially in the winter.
There have also been reports of safety issues, harassment, violence and discrimination which has led to a high dropout rate. Refugee children that do continue to attend are struggling with the new and different curricula, language barriers and lack of appropriate infrastructure. There is low teacher capacity, overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitation facilities and limited catch up programmes.
All of these factors, faced by children who are also coming to terms with their own trauma and distress, are continuing to create barriers to education. Consequently there is currently a need for the provision of informal education within the camps.
What we are doing to help
Over the past 3 years Children on the Edge have been working in partnership with Lebanese NGO - Mercy Foundation within the refugee communities in Bekaa Valley, providing quality, child friendly education for refugee children who are unable to access government or UN school provision.
These tent schools currently provide education for 500 children aged 6 -12. They are safe places with a trusted adult presence. Where other projects of this kind bring in teachers from the outside, this model raises up teachers from within the Syrian refugee community.
Teachers have been trained from within the camps, which is creating a sense of ownership of the project throughout the community and providing vital livelihood opportunities.
Emergency supplies have been provided to help during the harsh winter weather and because of camp evacuations by the military it has been necessary to build and maintain a new camp, ensuring safety and stability for up to 50 refugee families.
The children here are following a Syrian and Lebanese child friendly curriculum in their own language and the schools are further developing the opportunity for them to play and enjoy being children. Staff use Montessori techniques to help children re-engage with learning Arabic, maths, science, history, geography and English.
Many of these children have experienced trauma in Syria having witnessed the savage brutality of war, some of them having lost close family members. The ability to play is crucial for the healthy development of every child, helping them to feel secure, work out their feelings and tap into their natural resilience.
Our partners have also responded recently to the growing need across the border in Syria. They are working on getting fuel and food to internally displaced families in the eastern suburbs of Damascus who are struggling through the harsh winter conditions.
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