Every Syrian child that comes to the Bekaa Valley has their own devastating story of how the war in their country has affected them, the sacrifice and horror they have endured and the reason why they fled to Lebanon. But the education program operating out of the basement of True Vine Church is helping to turn children from despair and provide them with a more hopeful future.
The educators are committed to spending time with each pupil and giving them the support that they need. And there are many examples of their time and care paying off. Ahmad and his brothers witnessed a sniper shooting dead a boy outside their house and then an old man who tried to move the boy’s body. The two bodies remained on the street for three days. The children came to Lebanon and when they started attending the education program offered by the True Vine Church they were absent minded most of the time in lessons and not concentrating at all. The first year was very hard on them. However, the teachers’ special care and encouragement of these boys over time has led to a massive improvement. They are very good students now and are getting high grades.
Another student was seen by his parents as lazy with possible mental health issues as he was doing so badly in his studies and at home. But the teachers stood by him, gave him special care and he too is now doing very well in his studies. His life has been transformed as a result.
The aim over the last academic year at True Vine has been to reach and teach more children. The building of more classrooms and adding another shift of classes has increased the number of pupils to a total of 300. Yet there are around 3,000 children that the church can easily access, yet can’t currently teach. Around 1,700 of these were invited to a special festival event that the church organized in January, where in addition to the interactive program, each child received a gift, followed by a visit to their family.
Since those initial visits, the True Vine Church has divided the families they met into five zones. Every family in a zone receives a periodic visit to check on their needs and assess whether the church can help. The hope is to have tent schools for the school age children in these families.
“This is our priority,” says the Pastor Jihad Haddad, who leads True Vine Church, an LSESD partner church. “This is what breaks our heart. We are trying very hard to start tent schools for these children. There are about 3,000 children amongst families that we are serving that are not going to any schools. We are concerned that these children are very vulnerable and may otherwise be driven to all kinds of vices in society.”
Two weeks ago, Jihad was in one of the camps around a group of children. When he told them that the church was trying to start a school for them, one girl started crying. “Really – will we be able to go to school again?” she said. “It was really like a dream to her,” recalls Jihad. “She couldn’t believe it. This tells you how much going to school is important to them.”
The other problem True Vine has is that it can only teach to a certain grade before students then need to pass exams, which the church currently does not have a license to administer. The children would need to go to a Lebanese school but the curriculum there is quite different to what they are taught in Syria. In this period of uncertainty, when students face either returning to Syria or staying in Lebanon, True Vine is trying to prepare them for both. In addition to the curriculum it offers, the students are also learning English so they could better handle the English-led curriculum of Lebanese schools if they had an opportunity to apply to one.
True Vine Church’s education program is making a huge impact in these 300 young lives. Pray that obstacles will be overcome in 2015-16 so we can together help hundreds more children and give them hope after horror and a life after loss.