In The Absence Of Schools, Tents For Teaching Syrian Children In Lebanon

In The Absence Of Schools, Tents For Teaching Syrian Children In Lebanon

Reports | 29 06 2023

Hayaat al-Zayn, Pascal Sawma - Beirut

“I was in a camp a few months ago, and I was surprised to find a 13-year-old boy that couldn’t write his name,” that’s how the Syrian activist tells us how he started his project: building model camps, for teaching children in Syrian refugee camps, in northern Lebanon.

Such initiatives are in different areas across Lebanon, wherever refugee camps can be found. Some activists try to spread some hope and knowledge, as thousands of Syrian children are out of school. It’s very challenging to go to school, due to the long commute to school; the cost; and the mainstream culture that education is not a priority: given that the refugees’ priority revolves around securing a living, education seems like a luxury. 

What’s worse is the strikes that have been taking place in the public sector in Lebanon, preventing students from going to closed schools for weeks. 

“I decided to raise money for building model camps, with teachers from different disciplines. We started with one, and now there are five for teaching children in northern Lebanon. So far, 150 students are registered,” Syrian activist Khedr al-Dabi tells us about his initiative to fight illiteracy and provide education. 

"I am trying to do my best to help those innocent children. They have the right to learn and achieve their dreams,” he adds. Al-Dabi tells Rozana that he’s excited that students are getting ahead, gaining knowledge, and learning new skills. 

Students in Labor Market, Out of School

There’re more than 170 thousand refugees registered in nearly 350 Lebanese public schools (in the afternoon classes), while there are 235 thousand Lebanese students.

Half the Syrian children, according to UNICEF, are out of schools ـــــbe it in Syria, or in refugee countries.

According to the Spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency in Lebanon, Lisa Abou Khaled, 30% of Syrian children inside Lebanon have never been to school; and primary school attendance dropped by 21% in 2022 alone. 

The Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees, jointly issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP); and the UNICEF, shows that the number of Syrian refugee children who are engaged in child labor had doubled between 2019 and 2012 to reach 82527 children ـــــ with boys being at a higher risk. We’ve recently worked on an investigative report that showed how tragic the situation is for Syrian children who work in the Lebanese labor market under harsh conditions, and are subject to violence and marginalization to secure a living for themselves as well as for their families. 

According to the UNHCR, the number of school-aged refugee students (3 - 18 years), who are not registered in any kind of school, are 300 thousand in 2020 alone. 

Nearly 30 thousand children lost their chance of getting an unofficial education, due to COVID-19, while only a few could keep on learning from a distance.

Small Candle

With an initiative for teaching children, Joria lights a small candle in the camps of Beqaa Valley.

Joria couldn’t complete her undergraduate studies in Lebanon, as her certificates remained in Syria. As a result, she felt obligated to help children in refugee camps gain the minimum level of education. 

“A large number of children are denied the right to education, because of identification papers; customs; and traditions. They come from a society that denies girls the right to education ـــ they don’t have any motive to provide their children with education, as they are convinced that education is of no use,” that’s how Joria describes the situation and the common pattern negatively reflected on the educational future of the children inside the camp; and that’s how the idea of establishing a small school for teaching children inside the camp came about. 

Joria’s initiative started out in the spring of 2017, in Beqaa’s Marj Camp, with a small number of children. And then, little by little, the number started growing until Joria had to find a larger space that can accommodate as many children as possible. 

The school now has nearly 110 children, 80 of whom don’t go to school for several reasons. Some of these reasons are: the child’s parents are not legally registered as a married couple, and therefore the child doesn’t have an identification document; the family of the child doesn’t care about their education; or the child has stopped going to school during the pandemic. For all the above mentioned reasons, schools have put some age-related restrictions. 

Joria is keen to teach children both Arabic and English, in addition to some recreation activities. She also gives high priority to Arabic, believing that it is “the way to literacy, which is very important to them,” she explains. 

About Hope & the School of Hope

In northern Lebanon, in a town in Akkar District that’s bordering Syria, al-Haisa camp can be found. The camp includes 40 families, most of which have been displaced from places such as Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

Under the economic circumstances, and due to the costly commutes caused by the rising fuel prices and the ongoing strikes in public schools, many children in the camp are no longer able to complete their education. That’s how the idea of teaching children inside the camp, by allocating a tent for the purpose and calling it: al-Amal school (School of Hope), came about. 

The school has a number of benches and a large board. On both sides of the board are drawings by children on different occasions, like: Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, among others. 

The person who came up with the idea of the school, the camp’s sergeant, is keen to secure the supplies needed in the learning process, as he believes in the urgency and importance of education. 

The school has 80 students. Some of those students go to formal schools, when opened, while others don’t go at all. 

Children learn Arabic, English, mathematics, and theology. Marouf Khalaf, also a Syrian refugee living in the camp, is the one responsible for teaching those children. 

Another Initiative..

Arabic teacher Suleiman al-Hassan decided to teach children at his own tent, because they need education; drop out of school on the pretext of documentation and age; and because some families tend to teach their children a craft after being rejected by schools.

Suleiman’s initiative started in 2017, in Beqaa’s Bar Elias Refugee Camp. And when he moved to Zahlé, he took his initiative with him to his new camp. 

With the help of his wife, who majored in preschool education, Suleiman teaches for three hours a day. While his wife takes care of preschoolers, the responsibility of teaching the rest of the children falls on Suleiman’s shoulders. With the help of another teacher who majored in Sharia (Islamic law), he teaches Arabic; English; and mathematics.

Suleiman told Rozana that his initiative started out with 10 students, and now has 83 students. Two years ago, he explains, 40 students managed to learn how to read and write well after being completely illiterate.

According to Suleiman, only a very small number of those children go to school. That’s why his initiative is very important, when it comes to teaching children the minimum amount of knowledge and the basics of reading and writing. 

Suleiman encourages his colleagues to start their own initiatives in their own areas, as he believes in the importance of such initiatives in the upbringing and development of children. 

Such limited, individual, and small initiatives aren’t enough to heal the wound of drop-outs in the Syrian refugee camps. International and official efforts are needed so that the bleeding would stop and the post-war generation wouldn’t be the generation of losers and drop-outs. 

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