Already staff at the refugee schools we support in Lebanon are trying to cope with teaching in a small tent with basic resources, ensuring classes can learn in their own language in an unfamiliar country and helping children to deal with the trauma of what they have been through before their arrival.
More recently they have also had to contend with a increased influx of new children as more and more refugees pour into Lebanon. They are also seeing pressure on children to work because of the poverty in which families find themselves, and the vulnerability of families in the camps to the self made ‘landlords’. These emerging problems are creating very real obstacles to learning, yet staff are meeting the challenges head on, with skill, creativity and tenacity.
To cater for increased numbers a third school was opened in May for an additional 120 students, and staff are expecting another 30 in the next few months. The school itself was brilliantly designed by a German architect who volunteered his time, making a more spacious area than that of the other schools, and laying it out in a way that enables the children to have some outside space to play and run around in during breaks. The second tent school space has also been adapted by the renting of a nearby tent to use as an extension.
Naturally, those children arriving are behind in their work, so a dedicated ‘catch up’ process is being developed for new arrivals. Staff assess the students beforehand to ensure this focus will not slow down the progress of the rest of the class or leave the new pupils discouraged or frustrated. The have created a ‘prep class’ for new students before actual classes start, to work to integrate them into their learning as seamlessly as possible. Eight new refugee teachers have been trained in the last six months, making a total of 16 teachers.
As we enter summer season the challenges of harsh winter conditions are abating, but different difficulties are coming to the surface. One teacher describes how at this time “students are not showing up to school because it is potato harvest season and they need to help their families make money, or they may, all of a sudden, completely quit school because their parents have found a job for them and they don’t want to argue about not taking it”. Often the “Shaweesh” (land owner) will take children off for a few days of work on his fields as part of the payment of their family’s rent, resulting in them missing days of school. In the camp where the first school is built, the landowner was even threatening to fire parents who sent their children to school.
In response, when the third school was built, staff from the project met with all three landowners in the surrounding camps and negotiated with them to sign contracts agreeing not to take the children out of school for work. Project worker Nadine Morcos said “The Shaweeshes pride themselves in being benefactors and having good connections with NGO’s, so they were happy to comply with these conditions, and did as much as they could to help us start up the school. It was good to see their involvement and support in making the school a reality”. In the area where the landowner was issuing threats, a vote was taken in the community and the school was moved to a better environment, so parents would not be afraid to send their children to class.
In the last six months refugee teachers were taken on a day trip to the sea at Sidon. This was a trip of a lifetime for many of them as the majority had never seen the sea before. Last week the students from the first and second schools went on an end-of-year field trip to a public piece of land with lots of free space to run around, and a freshwater spring to swim in. The children absolutely loved splashing around in the water all day and playing games together.
The need in the refugee community here continues to grow, and if we can secure funding then the aim is to create a fourth school in October. The UN describes how a funding crisis is compounding the problems of both refugees and humanitarian agencies. We really appreciate any help you can give with your own donations, or by sharing news about the project to those who may be interested in supporting it.