Published by www.allstandtogether.com
These children belong to refugee families in Lebanon. Some of them arrived only a few weeks ago, while others who have managed to escape the war in Iraq and Syria have been here for two years. They are Christians and Muslims, and learn to hang out together in this special school.
Having lived through violence, persecution for religious reasons, and lack of electricity and food have left wounds that are difficult to heal.
Diana, AVSI Foundation: “Children in general are not easy to deal with. Especially children that are emotionally traumatized. They are special cases. You have to be very careful in how you speak to them. You have to give them a very safe environment. They want to feel loved, they want to feel protected, they want to feel safe. And I think that here, in our school, that is our most important goal: to make the children feel safe, before anything else.”
Some of the younger ones, like Mohamad who is almost a teenager, have experienced closed schools back in their countries for several years.
Diana, AVSI Foundation: “It’s difficult because, first of all they are learning things that they should have learned at a younger age and are now learning at an older age. That is the most difficult part. Second of all, discipline. They are not disciplined. They don’t know the rules of a classroom. So what we do is to introduce them to the rules in the beginning. We told them what you can do, what you can’t do, group study sessions, interactive learning… We try to make it as interesting as possible, so that they can be excited to learn.”
Fortunately, the fruits of education that the school passes along are appreciated during the first week of lessons.
Diana, AVSI Foundation: “I don’t want them to start learning, you know, all the letters and the numbers right away, but the simpler things, like asking for permission before speaking, for example, or writing in neat handwriting and not just scraping the paper. Those are huge improvements. They are huge. And, you know, from week to week I noticed a huge improvement in the kids”.
This initiative is one of the 20 schools that are being managed by the AVSI Foundation in Lebanon that follows the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Jihane Rahal, AVSI Foundation: “Even just playing together without hurting each other, without arguing and so on is something, it’s a wonderful achievement. Just being able to see them play, like now, during the recreational activity they have during rest, say, after one class and another. When they come here to play ball, they are together, they talk to each other. We try to pass on these simple values that will serve them for life.”
More than 10,000 children benefit from these educational centers, which open a door of hope for refugee children.
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.
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