BMS World Mission’s Engage editor Chris Hall reflects on meeting Syrian refugee children while visiting with LSESD in Lebanon.
When we enter the class, it’s like most classrooms in the world. A teacher at the front and a group of children sitting at desks staring at a white board. They’re like children you could see anywhere, I could be looking at my son and daughter, but one thing makes them special. They shouldn’t be here.
Three years ago, these children were happily growing up in Syria with their parents. What they have gone through since then, I can hardly comprehend. Some of them have been woken up at night by explosions nearby or have had to run between buildings to avoid being hit by snipers. I cannot imagine the dangerous and traumatic journey they have taken to end up in this classroom, in this town in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Their childhoods have been permanently scarred by the horrors of a civil war they do not fully understand. Many will have lost loved ones or will not be sure if their dads are alive or dead.
Their homes, which we see after visiting the school, are ad-hoc. Some will go home after school to farm buildings their family is renting with others that usually house chickens. Others will go to tents their families have constructed next to vineyards where some of Lebanon’s finest wine is grown. UNHCR plastic sheeting cover most of these tents and they look reasonably sturdy in the warm November sun which feels like summer in the UK, but winter will soon be with them and it will be bitterly cold to live in them then.
The school these Syrian children attend is hosted in the basement of a church. Of the 300,000 Syrian children who have fled to Lebanon with their families, around 88,000 have managed to get school places. Most are not being educated and this church is trying to respond in a small way by teaching over 250 Syrian children. These school children are the fortunate ones. Back at the refugee camp are the young people the church is unable to help. Sitting around, playing or chatting may be fun for a few days or a few weeks, but slowly it is leading to a long and potentially hard future of little education and opportunities lost for a better life.
In one class in the basement school, a boy in a bright red jumper stands at the front, holding a long silver ruler to help him follow the Arabic written on the white board. He patiently reads out the Arabic words, moving the ruler as he goes. The effort he is putting into it symbolises the spirit of the children. They want to be here, they want to improve their lives. The education this church is giving them, supported by BMS World Mission through our partner the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, is vital, not only for these children’s present, but for their future. This church is instilling knowledge in these children that may get them a decent job one day but it is also instilling values that may well steer them away from the radicalism that is ravaging not only Syria, but all of the Middle East.
We ask the children in each class if they want to stay in Lebanon or to go back to Syria. The response every time is: “I want to go back to my land.” When they will go back is uncertain, but when they do, thanks to this church and your support, Syria may have a brighter future than it does now.
Second photo from top (c) Esther Mankin
This article was first published by BMS World Mission’s Engage Magazine on 20/11/2014, and is posted here with permission.