By Teddy Ostrow
Rana Najib was living in Damascus, Syria with her family when the civil war started in 2012. She was working with a program connected to the European Union at that time, but two months into the war the program fell through because the EU pulled funding when Western nations sanctioned the Syrian government. She went to Germany to continue her studies, but decided to go back to Damascus to help her family during the war.
Luckily, the part of Damascus where she and her family resided was not under attack and leaving the country was actually an option for her. She started to look for work in Syria, but job offers were limited because of the war so she went job-searching in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor. By chance, Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internationale (AVSI), an Italian international not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), was launching an emergency intervention operation in Lebanon. She pursued an interview with the NGO and was eventually given a job.
La Voce sat down at the UN Headquarters in New York, to talk with Ms. Najib, who is now the Education Coordinator of AVSI’s present $10 million operation in Lebanon, and Maria Laura Conte, AVSI’s Communications Director, to discuss how they are handling the Syrian refugee crisis.
Lebanon now hosts approximately 1.1 million Syrian refugees, nearly one fourth of its population, trailing only Turkey, which hosts 2.5 million. Human Rights Watch released a report on July 19 showing that 250,000 of the approximately 500,000 school-age Syrians in Lebanon are out of school. This epidemic is in spite of the nation’s generous allowance of Syrian children to go to public school for free, regardless of their legal residency. Ms. Najib confirmed for us, however, that according to her UNICEFcolleagues the figure is much higher: “Now in Lebanon there are more than 377,000 children currently excluded from formal and non-formal education programs.” This is due to limited educational resources, refugees’ inability to pay for travel fees and school supplies, and Lebanon’s residency regulations which effectively bar most Syrians from renewing their residency permits.