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 teaching staff we support in Lebanon have been increasingly observing how Syrian refugee children in their classes struggle with creativity in their writing. Project Worker Hannah McNair explained 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.
“This was a great way of encouraging out-of-the-box thinking in writing” said Hannah. “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.
Hannah says “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.
During the winter of 2017, we appealed to our supporters to help many internally displaced families in Syria to survive the freezing conditions they were facing. Our partners in Lebanon (Triumphant Mercy) crossed the border, providing food and fuel to 150 families in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Since this time, they have continued to work with these communities, responding to the humanitarian, educational and health needs as best they can. For the last few years, Syria has been closed to most outsiders. Only Lebanese nationals have had free access, and crossing the border takes no more than 15 minutes.
The early distributions in 2017 were coupled with home visits, listening to people who felt they had lost hope. Many people expressed that they felt abandoned by the world, and at this point our partners began supporting children here to access education. Over 70 children were sponsored to go to school including transportation, books and materials.
The area where we are focussing our support is Jaramana, south of Damascus. The city is an hour from the recently attacked town of Douma and less than a mile from the battleground of Ghouta. The intensity of the violence here has made it temporarily impossible for our partners to access the area, but they have a team of Syrians, working there on their behalf, until they can return.
Through exploring the needs of communities here, it was found that many children are without parental care, living and sleeping on the streets. There was also an identified rise in drug addictions, domestic violence and crime.
Nuna Matar who leads the work of Triumphant Mercy says, “Though we are deeply concerned with this escalation of violence, we also know that we cannot just sit with hands folded, watching people suffering without any hope”.
Within Jaramana we are currently supporting work to build relationships and support networks, including youth groups and women’s forums. To help people here more effectively, Triumphant Mercy have started the process of officially registering as an NGO within Syria. They are currently looking for suitable rented space to open their first community centre, which can be used as a safe place for women and a shelter for children to have daily meals and activities.
The hope for this centre is that, in time, it will be able to welcome and support every part of the community.
Sign up to make monthly donations to support work like this, and find out more about our partner’s work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, by clicking the buttons below.
‘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.