‘Blossoming in an environment of peace’ - Schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon continue to grow
There is some good news from Lebanon as the tent schools we support for Syrian refugee children continue to grow. For the past few years we have been working with our local partner, led by Nuna Matar, to provide education in the camps for 430 Syrian children.
The need is so great, that when registration was opened for new classes in January of this year, an additional 180 children were queuing up to be enrolled. Nuna has created four new classes in February, with a plan to open three more in March, bringing the total number of Syrian children enrolled to 500, with a further 100 on the waiting list.
There are significant challenges ahead, however. With many Syrian children out of school for so long, they have often missed out on basic education. Even those who had had access to school have fallen way behind. Nuna said “We were shocked to see so many 10 years old who can’t even write a simple word. These kids have been going to formal schools but have not even learned basic reading or writing skills”. The Lebanese government has opened up classrooms for Syrian refugees, but not every child is able to attend due to lack of space, transport costs, harassment and language barriers.
This has made our tent schools very attractive for Syrian refugees, as they provide a safe environment for children and quality education. Teachers are trained from within the Syrian refugee community, rather than brought in from outside the camps, and this gives a vital sense of familiarity for the children.
Children have begun to feel safe again. One teacher described how they have begun to draw gardens and houses in their classes, a marked difference from the images of war and violence that were being drawn when they first arrived in the camps.
One of these teachers, Aisha, used to work as a teacher in Syria in an area occupied by ISIS. She told us how they were indoctrinating children into their ranks, describing how “They would put heavy weapons in the hands of kids who were 10 years old and younger, … promising all kind of things like money, luring young boys. Parents were not allowed to object”.
Aisha is now grateful to work in a school where she is able to teach in a peaceful and safe environment. Her four children are also enrolled in the school, where they are now blossoming in an environment of peace, without the threat of recruitment or violence.
It costs just under £1000 to support a refugee teacher for a term at one of the tent schools, and provide them with full teacher training. The buses provided to get children to the schools cost £96 each to run each week. If you feel you can contribute, please click the donate button below. Every contribution, big or small makes a real difference.
Our International Director, Rachel Bentley has just returned from visiting our partners in Lebanon. In the Bekaa Valley, we support five schools for Syrian refugee children. One is based in a Community Centre in Beirut, and the others are situated throughout a number of informal tented settlements.
Rachel said “This is the best I’ve seen the schools running. The team out there are brilliant and the children are progressing really well. The services at the Beirut Centre for refugees are expertly done, the clothes distribution there is not only efficient; catering for hundreds of families, but it ensures care and dignity. It’s more like a boutique than a handout”.
Despite the schools running so well, the future is looking bleak for the refugee population here. There has been a huge drop in international funding over the last year, and the outlook is uncertain for humanitarian support in 2018.
“I could see the impact of this funding crisis first hand”, said Rachel “There has been a long running psychosocial programme here for traumatised refugee children, it is based out of the Centre in Beirut. The work is funded and implemented by larger international organisations, but while I was there, our partners were told that the funding had been cut. They were only given one day’s notice. This is a dire situation for these children, who are especially in need of consistent care”.
UNCHR stated just last week that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are more vulnerable than ever, with more than half living in extreme poverty and over three quarters living below the poverty line.
Whilst there has been a marginal move amongst the population to return to Syria, this will be a long process, and life there is far from safe at present. Just last week there was a serious explosion in one of the Internally Displaced Camps across the border. “This place was regarded as a safe area” describes Rachel, “People have always been desperate to go home, but events like this are not encouraging any immediate, large scale return”.
Children on the Edge are continuing to support the refugee schools in Lebanon, and have had inspiring feedback from the parents, children and teachers involved. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, just click the buttons below.
As we prepare for the Christmas break and end of term celebrations here in the UK, we take a look at what the children at our tented schools in Lebanon have been doing to mark the end of their term earlier this year.
The children took end of term exams for the first time this summer. After the exams, children, parents and teachers were then invited to attend an end of year celebration. The teachers gave well-deserved, glowing comments about each child and presented them with a certificate and a small gift.
To celebrate their hard work, the children were also given the chance to enjoy a number of fun day trips, which incorporated activities to build skills, like leadership and problem solving.
The youngest children visited a nature park where they saw lots of animals and were able to go on a treasure hunt, eat lunch together and compete challenges. The children reported that they had great fun on the trip.
The middle students enjoyed a day out to a little creek. They loved playing in the water, and also went on a treasure hunt, played team games and had a picnic lunch together.
The oldest children went to a local historic town, to visit a cultural monument and take part in a scavenger hunt. This became a day of discovery, looking at architecture and history in a fun way, whilst making comparisons to Syria.
The final celebration involved a movie night for the children, with a screening of ‘Finding Nemo’ dubbed in Arabic. For many of the children, this was the first time they had seen a film on a big screen. The teachers gave out juice and snacks and had around 400 children, parents and teachers watching together!
Read more about our work in Lebanon
On Friday 27th October, local chef, Juliet Graham organised a 'Syrian Feast' at Tuppenny Barn in Southbourne, to raise funds for our tented schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The event raised an incredible £2245.
Juliet, who owns Green and Graham catering in Hambrook wanted to do something to support Children on the Edge and in particular, our education programme for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. She organised the Syrian themed feast, creating her own menu of delicious food which was freshly prepared at Tuppenny Barn with help from a team of volunteers.
Juliet Graham said:
"In 2016, I visited the refugee camps in Calais. Having seen how people were living, I knew I wanted to do something to help. Soon after, I heard Nuna Matar speak in Chichester and I thought it would be fantastic to join up with Children on the Edge and do something locally to raise funds, build awareness, and have some fun at the same time!".
Nuna Matar runs the education programme we support in Lebanon, and visited Chichester in April 2016. She met with a number of local supporters to talk more about the programme, inspiring many local people to get involved in supporting this work.
The meal for 67 hungry guests included lentil, chard and freekeh soup, flat breads, falafel and moutabal, along with lamb, marinated chicken kebabs and roasted quail, with an array of side dishes - Mujadara, Fattoush salad, Muhammara and honey roasted figs with halloumi. All the dishes went down extremely well with guests, who dined with the delightful tunes of some traditional Syrian music in the background, performed by members of the Sussex Syrian Community Group.
After dinner, Director of Children on the Edge, Rachel Bentley spoke about our work in Lebanon. She explained how we have been working with Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley for over three years, in partnership with Lebanese NGO - Mercy Foundation.
Our programme provides quality, child friendly education for 500 refugee children, aged 6-12, who are unable to access government or UN school provision. The schools are safe places with a trusted adult presence. Where other projects of this kind bring in teachers from the outside, our model raises up teachers from within the Syrian refugee community. It costs just £194 a year to educate one Syrian refugee child in one of our tent schools, so the total of £2245 raised from the banquet is enough to educate 11 children for a whole year.
"I'm delighted that the evening was such a huge success and raised vital funds for a very worthwhile cause. I'm grateful to all the volunteers that helped to make the event possible, and to Tuppenny Barn, who very kindly provided the venue for free".
Rachel Bentley, Director of Children on the Edge said:
"We'd like to say an enormous thank you to Juliet and her team for not only providing such a lovely evening of fine dining and entertainment, but raising so much for our work with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. As a small charity, funds like this really do make a huge difference, so we are grateful to everyone who was involved for making the event such a success".
Find out more about how you can organise a fundraising event for Children on the Edge.
‘School is like their second home’ - Syrian refugee teachers sustain safe spaces for children existing in chaos
The pupils, parents and staff at Shellingford CE Primary School in Oxfordshire have been raising money for our work with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon since September 2016 as part of a whole school year of fundraising. So far they have raised an enormous £4871.13!
We visited the school in September 2016 and spoke to the staff and students about our project in Lebanon, providing education for 500 Syrian refugee children through our tented schools in Bekaa Valley. We spoke to the young students about what it was like to be a refugee and tried to get them to think about what life might be like for a Syrian refugee family who had to flee their home because of the ongoing conflict. The children were asked to think about what items they might take to help ensure their survival; things like like blankets, passports, money, a torch, first aid kit and a mobile phone.
This visit from Children on the Edge in September kicked off Shellingfords' fundraising for the year ahead. But teacher, Alex Drew was behind all the schools' fundraising activities. His family foundation set up in memory of his father (the Simon Drew Foundation) kindly provide financial support for our work in Lebanon, and he was keen for the school to get behind Children on the Edge too. Alex has led the schools fundraising which included a 'Self-Portrait' project, 'The Ultimate Sport Challenge' and a community picnic.
For the first of their activities, the 'Shellingford Self-Portrait Project', the children drew pictures of themselves which parents were able to order as keychains, framed portraits of fridge magnets, with all proceeds coming to Children on the Edge.
In February, staff and pupils took part in a series of sponsored sports activities called 'The Ultimate Sports Challenge'. The activities were linked to what Syrian refugees might have experience on their journey from their war-torn homes to refugee camps in Lebanon. Every child and teacher was asked to raise money with a specially created sponsorship form.
Tuesday: The Run
The whole school, including all the adults tried to run as many laps as possible in the school grounds, with 15 laps equalling 1 mile. The whole school ran an incredible 328 miles which they worked out as being as far as Shellingford to Paris, or the same distance from Aleppo, Syria to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Thursday: The Hike
Pupils took part in a hike in the local area. On the day each pupil brought a backpack with essentials they might need on a long journey. The children had been learning about refugees and thinking about what families and children might need to take with them to survive if they had to leave their homes in hurry, not knowing if they would come back. Despite storm Doris stopping them walking through the woods, they were able to walk through a mile long field and the village.
Friday: The Scramble
On Friday, the school organised a challenging obstacle in the playing fields. The obstacles were designed to be similar to what a refugee child might have endured when travelling across an unknown landscape. There were water and mud features and everyone got really stuck in.
Sunday: The Climb
For staff and families who were able to, the school finished their 'Ultimate Sports Challenge' with a climb up nearby White Horse Hill. The climb was related to a refugee's journey to hopeful safety.
Together, the Sports Challenge and Self-Portrait project raised an incredible £2546.52!
The schools' summer fundraising activity involved a community picnic which took place on Friday 26th May. Local residents were invited to join staff and pupils on a gloriously sunny lunchtime. The picnic raised another £127 to add to their total.
The parents at Shellingford Primary School have also been doing an incredible job of raising money through the 'Friends of Shellingford Primary School'. Their Spring Ball on the 20th May raised an amazing £806.50.
We were particularly touched to hear about year 5 pupil, Samantha's fundraising efforts. She independently organised for her family to make donations for chores completed at home. She raised a very impressive £43.90 with her hard work.
The money raised by Shellingford Primary School will go such a long way to help support our work with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.
Over the past 3 years Children on the Edge have been working in partnership with Lebanese NGO - Mercy Foundation within the refugee communities in the Bekaa Valley, providing quality, child friendly education for refugee children who are unable to access government or UN school provision.
These tent schools, in addition to a school based out of a Community Centre in Beirut, 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.
Could your school fundraise to support Children on the Edge? Find out more and Download our Schools Pack or contact Amy Rook, our Fundraising Officer: email@example.com
In Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, we work with local partners to provide education for around 500 Syrian refugee children. Most of these children are living in informal settlements on the border and are provided with child-friendly education in tent schools. We support the training of Syrian refugees as teachers, so the children can learn within their own culture and feel a sense of safety and familiarity.
One of the schools for refugees is based in a thriving Community Centre, run by our partners in Beirut. It caters for both Syrian and Iraqi refugees and not only provides education, but is a hub for the wider support of the refugee communities and the Lebanese poor.
Project leader Nuna Matar says “Life is difficult in the refugee settlements, but refugees in Beirut face huge difficulties too. There are people living on rooftops and in garages, they have no facilities, they can’t send their children to school and face a lot of discrimination”.
Over 100 children attend educational classes at the Centre, studying English, Arabic, maths, art and computers. It also provides psycho-social classes for around 300 children, vocational training and adult education. There are monthly clothes distributions and computer lessons for all ages to enable learning and contact with relatives back in Syria and Iraq.
Noora fled her city in Iraq where her husband worked in a restaurant, when it was surrounded by ISIS. They first fled to the north of the country with their three children, witnessing people killed around them and enduring a four hour journey on foot. “Everyone was afraid”, says Noora, ”we left with nothing at all. The children still remember this day and have nightmares”. After a month or so they made the trip to Beirut to find safety.
“Life is very difficult in Beirut. I worry about my children as there are no doctors and medication is too expensive. My husband has found work in construction but not enough for the rent, which is for two small rooms. With my parents, there are now eight people in these rooms. I feel safer here but the children still play games about war and shooting, and we have no security for the future.”
Noora has registered for an English summer school at the Centre to give her more options in the years to come, and her children come along to the education classes. The Centre in Beirut is a lifeline for refugees like Noora. It is attended by around 800 people a day, with new registrations every week.
Find out more about the work we support in Lebanon and consider donating to the project with the button below.
On Sunday 9th April 2017 Kelly, Sarah, Paul, and Andrew all ran 26.2 miles to raise money for Children on the Edge at the Brighton Marathon.
On one of the hottest days of the year so far, our four amazing runners absolutely excelled themselves and took on a challenge to remember in the sunny seaside city of Brighton.
For Kelly, Sarah and Paul, it was their first ever marathon, and all three completed it in hugely respectable times. And even more respectable were their fundraising totals. At the latest count, Kelly has raised £1414, Paul on £1200 and Sarah at £1181 – an absolutely incredible total between them.
Andrew, a veteran runner, who volunteers with our Chichester Half Marathon team took on the marathon, despite just recovering from an injury; all to raise funds for our work with vulnerable children overseas. In just a few weeks, he raised a great £435, also an amazing effort.
Raising £4320 in between them; this sum will help us to do so much to help vulnerable children overseas. For example, £4320 is enough to cover the costs of running one of our tent schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon for 100 children, for 43 days.
Paul said that the best thing about the challenge was knowing he was helping to change the lives of individuals he’ll never meet on the other side of globe. After completing the Birmingham Half Marathon in November last year, he wanted to take on a new challenge now he had some time to commit to the tough training regime required for a marathon. A personal trainer by trade and as well as a talented martial arts competitor, he found that training with his clients broke up the monotony of the long hours of training runs during the winter months. Paul’s not been put off doing another marathon either, he said “after my positive experience with the children on the Edge charity and the Brighton Marathon I am considering the Edinburgh Marathon 2017 at the end of May so watch this space!”
Sarah - the fastest of all our runners – said: “As awful as I felt during the run, I had access to doctors, I was able to get myself food and drink to recover, I got home to a warm bath and a bed to sleep in. When I think of those I set out to help, it makes my struggles on race day feel small but my sense of achievement feels great”. She said that starting the marathon knowing that she had hit her fundraising target was really motivating and along the appreciated the 'amazing' atmosphere and the level of support from the crowds. When asked what the hardest part of the challenge was; Sarah said it was all her training during the cold, dark months whilst juggling work and family life. Sarah even had to do a three hour training run in hurricane Doris!
Andrew told us that having secured a place at the Brighton Marathon last year, he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to raise funds for Children on the Edge. He’s volunteered for us for the past year, helping with the Chichester Half Marathon event. Despite being a veteran runner, he said that raising money to help the vulnerable children we work with gave him a focus and a reason to keep going during the marathon itself. What’s next for Andrew? He’s considering an ultra-marathon!
For Kelly, she wanted to take on the marathon to tick it off her bucket list. She also said that she wanted to run her first marathon for an organisation she knew and trusted, rather than just applying for another charity place. Knowing about our work - having volunteered on some of our projects in Romania and East Timor, and whilst working for us in Indonesia many years ago – meant that she has a real understanding of what Children on the Edge does. She said that the best thing about her challenge was that she raised a lot more money that she had hoped; which has a big impact for a small charity like us. The worst thing for Kelly, was the 21 degree heat on the day itself (it was a very hot April 9th for all the runners!).
We’re so proud and inspired by all our Brighton Marathon runners this year. They’ve done an incredible job of fundraising for Children on the Edge, as well as completing the marathon itself. Their efforts will make such a huge difference to our work.
Are you inspired to take on the Brighton Marathon in 2018? We have five charity places available, find out more and apply. Don't fancy a marathon? We'd love you to fundraise for Children on the Edge with your own challenge event. Find out more.
Children on the Edge generate hope, life, colour and fun in the lives of some of the most vulnerable children across the world. Hope is a fundamental part of this because it enables people to know that things can be different. In turn, this is a catalyst for action within the communities where we work.
Living on the edges of society, surviving life in refugee camps and slums, enduring persecution or isolation are all situations that can breed despair and inertia. Sometimes when people see no evidence that things can change, they stop wasting energy believing their situation can be different. Rebecca Solnit describes hope as an axe, rather than a lottery ticket, and says ‘To hope is to give yourself a future, and that commitment to the future makes the present uninhabitable’.
In his 1930s ‘Treatise on Hope’, Ernst Bloch says that hope requires people to ‘throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong’. To us, this speaks very strongly of the importance of hope in sparking community ownership, participation and action. Hope gets people on their feet and inspires them to become actively involved in creating change, instead of resigning themselves to the difficult circumstances they are living through.
We have seen this scenario many times in the situations we work, and it’s why generating hope is one of the core elements we focus on. We encourage it through our relational approach, and it is the key to community ownership in our projects. Here are two examples:
In Lebanon, when our partners started working with Syrian refugees in the informal settlements in Bekaa Valley, many people they met had given up.
Project Director Nuna Matar described how “Often groups of people would be sitting around doing very little, they didn’t see what they could do to change anything. Big organisations would come and count people rather than talk to them, leave resources that they didn’t need, like electric heaters when they have no electricity. Refugees want to be known as people, not numbers! This doesn’t build hope, they started to sit there powerlessly, wondering what would be dropped off next”.
When our partners started to talk to people about education for their children, some of the men said ‘Are you going to build us a school?’, so the team put the question back to them. ‘Are you going to build a school?’. After a long time of believing nothing could change, they had lost motivation, but the team here built relationships with them, encouraged them and worked alongside them.
The fathers became instrumental in the construction of schools, and later on even the building of a new refugee camp. The women are fully involved in the education programme, many being trained as teachers and instigating their own literacy classes. The children have been engaged in designing the camp, they especially liked helping out with building the play area! We are now supporting the education of 500 Syrian refugee children, whose aspirations are rising, as are those of their community.
One year ago in Uganda, when we visited Loco slum the people there said they had no hope. Unemployment and income poverty here has left households vulnerable and their children are prone to exploitation, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse. The Chairman of our Child Protection Team (CPT) in Loco, said “People here have had many organisations come and start things and then go, promise things and then disappoint, they didn’t believe things could change”.
Using the CPT model means that work here is totally owned by the community. Babra is a social worker for COTE Africa, she describes how “ The community participate from the start. They identify the problems, they identify the solutions”.
Ten local people are trained up to work in their area as part of the CPT, to educate people about child protection and support them to create a protective environment. These people are volunteers, and all the work they do is out of dedication to their community. As the people they work with start to see that things can change, it encourages them to take more action.
A year on we have the full participation of local people, not only the CPT volunteers but also parents getting involved with education, mothers creating new businesses to pay for their children to go to school and local services engaging with the Loco community to create a better environment for children.
The Chairman now describes how “People see workshops, they see a team that deals with their problems, they see a drop in domestic violence and crime, they see their children on a playscheme and a new Early Childhood Development Centre being built, and it gives them hope. These things have never happened in Loco. Hope is knowing things can change”.
These are just two examples of how hope brings action in our work, but if you visited any one of our projects you would see the same values. Thank you for your support in generating hope and bringing change in the lives of children living on the edge.
Read our earlier blog: 'What do we mean when we talk about hope?'
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