By Pauline Nasri
Back to school period isn’t the same for everyone. Perhaps, for you it reminds you of the anxiety of finishing summer. For some kids, it’s the excitement for buying new stationery and backpacks. Yet we live at a time where we can’t deny the significance of education, and the reality that education isn’t available for everyone to obtain.
For 10 years, the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has not progressed. In Lebanon alone there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Today nine out of 10 Syrians live in extreme poverty in Lebanon. Not only that, but also 60 percent of 660,000 Syrian school-age children are currently not getting an education. In July, the Lebanese government issued a plan to send 1.5 million Syrians back, at a rate of 15,000 Syrians monthly. However, for many Syrian refugees going back is not an option.
A Syrian family was displaced due to the war in Idlib. After the war began, the family moved to Lebanon in 2013 and has been living here ever since. The parents and their four children have been living in one room placed over the roof of a building. This one room without a kitchen or a fridge serves as the bedroom, the study, and play space for the children, and it’s also where they sleep, eat, fight, and celebrate.
“We’ve been in this situation for the past nine years. In these nine years, we have died thousands of times. Although we are alive, we are dead. We don’t go out or do anything. I feel like I’m in prison… It’s an emotional stress, more than you can imagine,” said Fawaz*, the father.
The other two eldest sons don’t stay with the family; they sleep in the same place where they work. One works as a mechanic and the other works at a restaurant. The two provide money for the family, yet it is barely enough for rent and electricity. The father said that it’s a crisis if any of the kids get sick or need a prescribed medication because they can’t afford any of it. As for the mother, Hana*, she is now pregnant with her seventh child. Sadly, she doesn’t have a pregnant belly since she can’t buy the vitamins needed for the growth of the baby.
Schooling provides hope for another day
Three of their children attend an education center in Lebanon run by one of MERATH’s partner churches. The parents are supportive and want the children to continue their education.
“There is nothing more left from life other than seeing our kids studying, reaching places, and seeing them happy. That’s our dream,” said Fawaz.
Syrian refugees face risk to their lives as well as the chance to continue education. Hana said they have nothing left in Syria, not even one single cup. It’s also risky to go back as their region is occupied.
Fawaz said that there is no future for his kids in Syria, so even though their life in Lebanon is extremely tough, the family can’t go back.
“I’d rather they [his children] die here [in Lebanon] or in any other country and not return back,” said Fawaz.
The family is grateful for the church’s support whether in supplying food or medication whenever they are available. Yet, their hope is to travel and have a stable life where their kids can continue their education.
“What I’ve seen from the church, I haven’t seen from others. I consider them as my role models,” Fawaz said.
When it comes to the church-based education centers, there is a limit to the ages and grades for which these schools can provide education. Most churches and organizations provide only primary school education for the refugees. While the future of these Syrian students attending education centers may feel uncertain at times, still the present carries much hope for them.
The students dream big. One of Fawaz’s daughters, Raneem* wants to become a pediatrician.
Raneem expressed her gratitude for the education center, “…because of school, I learned to write and read.”
Expanding education opportunities to teenagers
There is more pressure on organizations to make decisions as refugee crises are expanding all over the world – in Ukraine, Afghanistan, or in other countries. However, the government threat to send Syrians back isn’t stopping organizations in Lebanon from continuing their work in education.
Fadi Faris is the principal of School of Hope (SOH), a school for teenage refugees in Zahle. Previously, Faris worked for another church-based education center that MERATH supports in the Beqaa valley, until God put on his heart to start a new ministry with older students. He saw so much potential in the students who graduated from our partner center that he wanted them to have an opportunity to continue their studies.
According to Faris, education in Lebanon has become a challenge for the Lebanese families as well. He said some Lebanese families had to take out their children from schools because of the economic crisis in Lebanon.
As for Syrian refugees, many families unfortunately rely on their children, especially their sons, to work and provide for the family. When you consider that even supplying basic needs such as food and rent is a struggle, education often must be put on hold. In many cases, we can prevent child labor by keeping learning centers free and accessible.
Faris said that the Lebanese government policy to send Syrians back is not recent, and in fact, it has been issued multiple times, though in different ways. Regardless, Faris will use the present time to invest in the lives of Syrian refugee teenagers. He said many of these students are geniuses.
At Faris’ school, there is a big focus on the academic part of education; however, they also emphasize offering a peaceful environment and making the students feel loved. Despite all the setbacks, education is essential in the lives of refugees in Lebanon.
At MERATH, we are committed to high-quality, non-formal education and psychosocial support in safe, protective environments. Please continue praying for mercy, peace, and a future for all the students and families impacted by these education centers.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Provide Education to Displaced Children
Through local churches and faith-based organizations, MERATH implements relief and development projects for thousands of displaced and vulnerable families in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq in the fields of basic needs, education and child protection and livelihoods.