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Economic stagnation — exacerbated by the recent war — and the current political crisis have made life difficult for many Lebanese and have taken their toll on the nation’s Catholic schools. Many families who send their children to the Antonine Sisters School in Ghazir have fallen behind in tuition payments; some have been unable to pay for as long as five years.

The dearth of good paying jobs, the political crisis and the threat of renewed civil conflict have also driven up the number of Lebanese emigrating from the country.

In 2000, Lebanon’s registered population numbered around 4.7 million, but only 3.5 million actually resided in the country. Many of those leaving belong to Lebanon’s educated middle classes. Unable to find suitable employment at home, they pursue opportunities in the West or in the Gulf states. For Lebanon’s Catholic schools, their departure has meant a growing shortage of qualified teachers.

“Many of the most qualified Lebanese are not in Lebanon,” lamented Sister Dominique.Catholic schools, however, are not the only ones in Lebanon affected by emigration. The country’s economic recovery and longevity will largely depend on the availability of a qualified and dynamic workforce.

Father Marwan regrets the problems caused by emigration but is at a loss how to reverse the tide.

“Our schools cannot stop emigration,” he said. “It is the place of the government to stop the brain drain and make a place in Lebanon for every child who is graduating to find a job and to be able to survive here.”

But current emigration trends worry those working within Lebanon’s Catholic school system for another reason. Emigration has hit the country’s Christians especially hard.

There is no reliable statistical data available on Lebanon’s various religious communities and no official census has been conducted since 1932, but it is readily apparent that the number of Christian families — Catholic and Orthodox — residing in the country has steadily declined in recent years.

Father Marwan estimates that as many as a half million Christians have emigrated in the last 10 years. Another negative demographic indicates that the birthrate among Christians is significantly lower than among Muslims.

A senior at Antonine Fathers College, 17-year-old Tony said many of his classmates believe life is better outside the country, offering more opportunities, stability and security. While he understands why they want to leave, he hopes to make a life for himself in Lebanon.

“If we all go, who are we leaving the country to?” he asked. “Before our country does something for us, we have to do something for it, we have to work for it.

“I’m going to try and handle stuff and face the troubles,” he continued. “If it gets really bad, for example a war or something, or if it gets practically impossible to live here, then maybe I’ll have to go. But even if it gets a little bad, I’m going to try and stay here and cope with it.”

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Tags: Lebanon Education Muslim Christian-Muslim relations Emigration