26 January 2018
Children at St. Rita School in Zahleh, Lebanon, gather for class. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: we’re pleased to share with you this update from Michel Constantin, our regional director in Beirut, describing how CNEWA’s support for a school in Lebanon is helping young refugee children from Syria recover from the trauma of war and look forward to a better future.
Being close to the Syrian border, Zahleh and the region were a safe destination for around 2,650 Syrian refugee families. Some 2,000 Syrian Muslim refugee families found shelter in tents and 650 Christian families rented small apartments. Out of the total number, around 500 were children — the main victims of the war in Syria.
Dozens of Syrian children were screened by the Greek Catholic Archbishopric Social Center to be out of schools in Zahle; they were at risk of becoming a lost generation, along with nearly 80 vulnerable Lebanese host community children. They had been enrolled in school but had learning weaknesses that made them at risk of dropping out of school.
For this reason, the Greek Catholic Archbishopric of Zahleh approached CNEWA for help. We were able to provide assistance during the academic year in remedial classes (Arabic, French, English and mathematics lessons), psychosocial support and summer school. Children were taken out on trips to discover new places in Lebanon, enjoying a more carefree time, with the hope of releasing the stress of their daily lives.
Initially, St. Rita School provided regular classes to Lebanese children in the morning shift. As the needs rose, it was decided to use the location to provide remedial classes in the afternoon shifts for the Syrians, along with tutorial classes to some Lebanese who were at risk of dropping out of school.
A student at St. Rita works on his classwork. (photo: CNEWA)
Below is the account of one student who benefited from this arrangement, sent to us by the school’s director, Zeina Aamoury:
Lea, a 10-year-old Syrian girl in the 5th grade, has been enrolled in Saint Rita School since 2016.
Ever since Lea was four-years-old, and still living in Syria, she would wake her mother up early in the mornings, wanting to go to school. Lea would literally cry when told by her mother to go back to sleep. The family circumstances were difficult; along with her mother, Lea lived with her father, who worked as a laborer in wall painting, and her brother Elias, who is three years younger, all sharing a tiny house with two rooms in Syria. Unfortunately her father spent his money on drinking and gambling.
Lea’s mother tried her best to ensure that her children lived peacefully. She wanted to create a nice family atmosphere for her husband and children, and never stopped praying to God to give her strength to endure this hardship. But it took a toll on her. Eventually, she became weary and got very sick. To add to her misery, in 2011 when the war broke out in Syria, the family had to flee the country seeking refuge in Lebanon.
But in Lebanon, life was still difficult. The father continued drinking and gambling.
Since the family became refugees in Zahleh, they received assistance from different social charity organizations. They lived in one room which was furnished by the mother’s relatives.
During the last academic year (2016-2017) when St. Rita School offered afternoon remedial classes for the Syrian children, Lea was the first student to register.
At the beginning, it was very difficult for her to adjust and to adapt to new methods of learning; in Syria all materials were taught in Arabic, while in Lebanon our core education is based on foreign languages. As school staff and teachers, we try our best to overcome all these obstacles to ensure that the refugee students attending the remedial classes are supported on both levels educationally and socially. We are fully aware of their hardships: losing all their belongings, having their houses completely demolished, living in a strange country and wondering all the time whether they will ever return to Syria.
But for Lea, the classes and supportive environment made a world of difference. Her life took a new turn. She amazed her teachers with her dedication and good work. She showed huge interest in her education and astonished all her teachers and administrators when she asked them to cover a two-year program in one year — and she completed her year successfully!
Lea is determined to study hard — to be part of the generation who will restore her beautiful homeland, Syria. She strongly believes that if it weren’t for the efforts exerted by all those who are helping her and hundreds other refugee children to study and follow their education in Lebanon, she would have lost her future for sure. Instead, she now has the chance to dream and hope.
For more on life among the refugees in Zahleh, read Hardship and Hospitality in the June 2017 edition of ONE.