September is back to school month for millions of children who are buying backpacks and school supplies. As the long days of summer fade, you can feel the excitement of a new year and new opportunities as each student steps into the classroom to kick-off the new term.
Back to School Not a Universal Reality
This, unfortunately, reflects a reverse reality for millions of children around the world. They are desperate for education but have little opportunity and many barriers. The UN recently reported that 27 million children globally who are affected by conflict will not be attending school this year. Having fled their homes and everything they know, these children are also without the opportunity of education to help protect their childhood and shape their future.
It’s not OK!
In Lebanon, LSESD is supporting non-formal education for Syrian refugee children through local partner churches and ministries. Through these programs, 1,200 otherwise out-of-school-children received education. This academic year, they hope to reach close to 1,500. In one of these education programs, children recently participated in an art activity geared to evaluate the impact of education in their lives. Students draw a picture of a child in school and out of school. Their descriptions of the children they drew reveal insightful reflections.
Insightful Reflections from Children
In School: “The child who is in school is happy because he is studying and learning new things like math, English and science. He is a good boy. His parents think he is clever. He is wearing school suits.”
Out of School: “This child doesn’t go to school. He is sad because he doesn’t attend school; he can’t see his friend; he sits and sleeps only, and cries. Parents say, ‘we will put you in school, but they don’t have any money.’”
In School: “The child in school is studying and doing homework. He is happy and his parents are proud of him.”
Out of School: “The child that is out of school has no friends, no one visits him. They think he is a bad boy. When his brother’s friends come, he sits alone. He wears black because his parents only give clothes to his brother who goes to school.”
Children can communicate such powerful feelings through simple words and pictures.
Education Gives Joy
When on a home visit to a refugee family recently, I was there just before the two children, Nizar and Haya, started getting ready for the afternoon school shift. The children were suddenly so active and excited as they hurriedly put their pencils, paper and books in their little backpacks, with huge smiles on their faces. When I asked the mother what they were so excited about she said simply, “They get to go to school today.”
For these children, discrimination of refugees kept them from playing outside their house. Apart from the basic knowledge and life skills children gain through education, attending school gives refugee and displaced children a safe place to play and develop. It gives them joy and hope for the future. The routine gives them a sense of normalcy, a place to make friends and build important social skills, and decreases the risks that are common for vulnerable refugee children such as abuse, child labor, early marriage, exploitation, trafficking and radicalization.
Remember the 27 Million!
As the new school year begins, let us remember the 27 million children around the world who are desperate for the opportunity to go to school. It’s not OK!
LSESD supports local Lebanese churches responding to the Syrian crisis by providing non-formal education for out of school children. You can also take part in helping make this possible.
By Education Program Officer, MERATH
Article originally published September 2017 by Food for the Hungry