On the 20th June each year, the world commemorates the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees. Around the world more than 50 million people have fled their homes, and over half of these are children.
The refugee children we work with in Lebanon, Bangladesh and Myanmar all show great strength, courage and resilience every day, surviving in some of the toughest places around the world. On World Refugee Day 2019, we wanted to take the time to share some of their thoughts and experiences.
After three years of great progress with tented education in Bekaa Valley, nearly 300 Syrian refugee children have taken another huge step forward by moving to a brand new school.
Together with partners Triumphant Mercy (TM), after supporting the creation of four colourful tent schools in Bekaa Valley settlements over the last few years, all the students have now transitioned to a new central building in Zahle.
Over the past four years Children on the Edge have been working in partnership with Lebanese NGO - Triumphant Mercy, within the refugee communities in Bekaa Valley. Together we worked to provide quality, child friendly education for Syrian refugee children who are unable to access government or UN school provision.
Since 2014, through four tent schools and a Community Centre school in Beirut, we supported education for hundreds of children aged 6 -12. Each school had a bespoke curriculum, refugee teachers, vocational skills opportunities and an environment of warmth and safety, where children could blossom.
Over the last three years we worked with teachers and staff at the tent schools to monitor and evaluate the progress of the children through these schools. The evaluation was extremely positive and at the close of 2018 results showed:
In the last few days Storm Norma has hit Lebanon with heavy rains, snowfall and freezing temperatures, leaving an estimated 70,000 refugees in need of emergency assistance.
Lebanon hosts over 1.5 million Syrian refugees, many of whom live in informal settlements with little to no infrastructure, as official refugee camps are not permitted. This makes these kinds of crises difficult to address, and UNHCR’s Interagency Coordination group report that 361 informal settlements and 11,301 refugees have been impacted by the storm so far. Unfortunately, the body of an 8 year old girl reported missing on Wednesday 10th January was recovered the day after. She had drowned after slipping into a rainwater channel.
For over four years, Children on the Edge have been supporting a small Lebanese organisation called Triumphant Mercy, to provide education for 500 Syrian refugee children, living in informal settlements the Bekaa Valley. They are also instrumental in providing additional support, care and supplies for the children and families living in these camps.
When the areas they work in were hit by the storms this week, this dedicated local group responded immediately, and Children on the Edge are urgently appealing for donations to assist them in rebuilding shelters.
Project leader Nuna Matar says, "All the refugees who are living under tents, or who are living in unfinished buildings were really severely hit by this storm...some of the tents are like shacks, so the winter snow is heavy on the roof, and some of them had their roofs collapse on them, so they had to find refuge in neighbouring tents and they had to rebuild, again”.
Many families have had mattresses, bedding, clothing and food destroyed and some tents are completely underwater. Children on the Edge are currently raising funds to pay for wood and plastic to help with rebuilding.
Nuna and her team are visiting the camps to provide help, but they struggle to get across the mountains from Beirut because of the heavy snow. Another storm is expected next week and they urgently need support to help affected families. 315 sites in the Bekaa area alone are at risk of further flooding and/or the accumulation of snow.
Nuna says, “There’s just not enough food, clothing, and shelter. Getting donor support for Lebanon has been challenging because the Syrian refugee crisis has fallen off the front page.”
You can support the appeal by visiting http://bit.ly/lebanonstorm
* Update 16/01/19*
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, yesterday we were able to send $1,000 to our partners in Lebanon. Today they have already began distributing warm jumpers and blankets in the storm-hit refugee camp (see photos below).
Project leader Nuna Matar said "I went yesterday to the camps to check how people are coping with Norma storm that hit Lebanon few days ago. And what I have seen is flooded tents, wet belongings and in some cases ruined tents. Another storm is also hitting today so I wanted to do the trip before roads are blocked with ice and snow.
We tried to help as much as possible distributing warm clothes for the children and opening up one of our schools as a shelter. I know we can do more. I received yesterday several calls from neighbouring camps begging us to come and help. We are so grateful that we are able to respond in some small way."
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In addition to the primary education provided for Syrian refugee children in the camps of Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, now older students are being given extra learning options to equip them for their daily lives and improve their future opportunities.
The 10th grade class has been learning a variety of different topics including intensive English classes, computer literacy (i.e. typing, Excel, Photoshop, Powerpoint), sewing and tailoring as well as going deeper into their academic studies.
They have also had experience being ‘teacher’s aides’ for part of term, which enabled them to see how lessons are planned and taught and how teachers manage the classrooms. Students then planned their own small lessons and taught some classes. Project worker Hannah says “It was difficult at first, but as time passed they became so much more confident in organising and leading the students”.
Students have also enjoyed a crafts and home decoration class with a volunteer teacher, taking things from their homes and turning them into decorations. They then had the opportunity to sell their crafts and decorations at a local market. They are also part of a building and wood construction course, where they learn the planning process, purchase materials, measure, cut and finally assemble different wooden projects.
In addition to practical skills, the entire school year have been learning economics, which is integrated into class times and projects. They collect money every week into a kitty to spend on things they want for the class. They have used this for craft materials and wood, then sold the items they made to make a profit. Hannah describes how “It is an amazing real time example and practice of economics. I saw some small tables they are building and was so impressed with their work!”
A short term volunteer also delivered solar oven building training for adults. The idea is that they can learn how to make solar ovens and then create small businesses. The added bonus is that, as electricity is unpredictable in Syria, when these refugees go back they will have useful transferrable knowledge to help refugee communities cook using solar power.
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The tent school teachers we support in Lebanon have been increasingly observing how Syrian refugee children in their classes struggle with creativity in their writing. Staff reported how “When learning their own Arabic language in Syria, teaching tends to focus on grammar and not on creative storytelling”.
One activity to address this was introduced by a visiting volunteer, who used an old, crumpled ten dollar note. She asked the children where they thought she had got it from and talked about how, judging by how it looked, it must have had a very long journey. She then passed it to one of the children and encouraged them to make up a story about where they had got it, the background of who had owned it before, and how they might have earned it.
The latest field report from staff stated how “This was a great way of encouraging out-of-the-box thinking in writing. Creative, imaginative thinking is a new concept to so many of our students. We’ve also noticed in the Syrian culture, they don’t often read books or stories”.
To encourage a love of stories, two ‘storytelling training sessions’ have been held for all the teachers. They then got the chance to practice what they had learned and tell stories to their classes in teams. The students enjoyed giving feedback on their storytelling abilities, and discussions were had about how using adjectives can generate excitement in writing, in the same way a film builds tension with background music.
Teachers say how “Reading stories is really helpful in capturing the students’ attention and encouraging them to read and learn about different people and contexts”. To develop this, the older children have been visiting a newly established library, to choose a book each week and help with the upkeep. Every Friday, the class reports on what they have borrowed, reviewing each book and describing if and why they would recommend it. The younger classes also take turns talking to their friends about the stories they have read.
‘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.
Around a third of refugees (around 360,000) are located in the Bekaa Valley, often living in small makeshift or unofficial camps. Large camps are not permitted by the Lebanese government and as a result, informal settlements of 50-100 families have become commonplace. Across the country, refugees in the Bekaa Valley (and Akkar) face the most poverty, with parents often forced to take their children out of school and into full time work to earn a living. Many of the camps are still without basic services for children, including education.
The Lebanese Government has been working with the UN to provide education for all. The main policy has been to enrol refugees into the existing public education system, 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 is difficult, and it is estimated that there are more than 250,000 refugee children out of school.
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 struggle 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 a need for the provision of informal education for children living within the camps.
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.