“The harvest I’m reaping now is the reward of eight years of cultivation and nurturing.” This is the statement of a dedicated educator who went the extra mile believing in the transformative power of grace and compassion.
The word “home” is meant to bring warmth and comfort, but for many, it holds a different meaning. It triggers painful memories that haunt them, memories they spend a lifetime trying to escape. Raja, an Arabic teacher at a partner education center in the Bekaa valley, shared his personal journey with MERATH, recounting the heart-wrenching story of leaving Syria and seeking shelter in Lebanon, all in search of a better future.
Little did he know that his arrival in Lebanon would bring healing to himself and those who, like him, had fled their homeland. Raja’s presence in the classroom, his empathy, and the way he taught became a balm for children’s wounded hearts, offering hope amidst the brokenness.
Embarking on this journey, expect blessings from the education center and a glimpse into the children’s daily hardships.
According to the UN, the Bekaa region is home to an estimated 1 million Lebanese residents. As of 01 January 2023, the total number of registered Syrian refugees in Bekaa stood at 318,713 individuals out of a total of 1.5 million in Lebanon. These numbers do not account for the thousands of unregistered Syrian families living in Lebanon.
Lebanon is facing a severe economic and political crisis, leading to increasing poverty, food insecurity, and disease outbreaks. The population, including Lebanese households and Syrian refugees, is struggling to cover basic needs, particularly food and healthcare. Public services are on the brink of collapse, and access to healthcare has become increasingly difficult. Additionally, living conditions for Syrian refugees are more and more deplorable, and education has been heavily impacted with six out of ten school-aged migrants and Syrian refugees out of school and over 10% of Lebanese children dropping out. The country declared a cholera outbreak in October due to poor water infrastructure and sanitation. Immediate action is needed to address these pressing issues and provide support to the affected population.
The dramatic situation in the Bekaa did not stop the education center at our partner church from daily welcoming its students and providing them not only with much needed education but also with necessary needs.
Raja joined the team in 2016 and the past eight years were very difficult, but they eventually paid off.
He expressed how witnessing heart-breaking scenes reinforced his dedication to help children and families. As an educator, Raja strongly believes in providing every child with a quality education and a secure environment to grow. He explained that the students they work with come from war-torn regions where the conflict has had a profound impact. The children have experienced unimaginable trauma, and their need for support is great. They have faced bombings, lost their homes and belongings, and endured the oppressive control of extremist groups. These experiences have shaped their lives, and it is crucial to recognize the unique challenges they confront.
Not only do the children at the center carry the scars of war, but they also bear the burden of displacement. Raja gave us a clear picture of many of them who have been forced to live in camps, where the conditions are far from adequate. During the several visits the church’s team made, they saw firsthand the harsh reality of daily life—living in temporary shelters, without proper sanitation and with minimal access to basic necessities.
Often times, Raja and the team of educators had to overcome different Arabic dialects that made communication difficult in order to create the necessary supportive environment for the children to better meet their educational, physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“We love these children as our own,” Raja said, “and I mean it wholeheartedly. We must provide them with the tools to help them heal from their traumas and break free from the cycle of violence. It is not just my Syrian identity and heritage that drive my dedication to these children; it is my unwavering belief in the power of education, and God’s grace to transform their lives.”
Driven by empathy, Raja went beyond his role as a teacher to being a compassionate mentor who understands their struggles and seeks to guide them. Even his breaks have been well utilized to deepen their understanding of what they have been learning.
Raja also equipped himself through different trainings and workshops by psychologists and therapists to better address the many challenges students face. Raja shared the story of a young girl who with the team’s support, was able to gain confidence in herself and become a thriving expressive student who loves school and interacting with her friends.
“Before joining the center, I taught at a regular school for children who had not experienced trauma. However, things are different here. Each child requires a unique approach, which was a significant challenge for me.” With the help of creatingvisual aids and external guidance, Raja and the team were able to establish an environment of trust where progress could be seen both inside and outside the classroom.
Raja expressed his happiness to see the results of the team’s hard work paying off. Witnessing the change, transformation, and positive response made them forget all the challenges and efforts they faced along the way. He believes that nurturing relationships and trust is the key to breaking the chains of fear and doubt. This resonates with his own journey of healing through his relationship with God and the people in the local church.
“I love my work because it stems from a deep sense of purpose to deliver a message”.
A message to a people the church could not have reached had they not come to Lebanon.
God breaks barriers, offers grace, and rewards sacrifice, using faithful people like Raja and the team in the education center.
As I gazed upon the wide fertile fields of Bekaa, I noticed how white they are for harvest and I remembered the verse in Matthew 9 where Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”.
God is surely at work in our region, revealing himself “to those who did not ask for [Him] [He] was found by those who did not seek [Him] to a nation that did not call on [His] name” (Isa. 65:1)
At MERATH we strive to support as many children as possible through local churches by enabling them to access education and experience the love of Jesus through the fellowship and the presence of the saints.
The next milestone is to start a vocational program through which we can equip students with the necessary skills that would enable them to find a job so that they can sustain themselves and their families amid overwhelming hardships.