60,000 Syrian refugees could miss school in Lebanon over lack of funds

Children in conflicts, Education funding, Education in emergencies

Mayas gets a lesson from her brother Ahmad

Mayas is 12 and hasn’t been to school for four years. She didn’t know how to read or write until her older brother Ahmad started teaching her a few months ago.

Her family are Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon. But Mayas Saleem Ftayni – lively, polite and with striking green eyes – was taken out of school when she was just eight because her parents feared for her safety during the conflict.

“If I could go to school, I could get a good job and then I could help my family,” she says. “When I grow up I want to become a teacher so that other children can learn.”

The Lebanese government wants to help refugee children like Mayas. It committed to providing 200,000 places in formal education through an innovative double-shift system for Syrian girls and boys first proposed by A World at School in 2013.

But more than 60,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon may be unable to go to school when the new term starts this month due to lack of funding. Through contributions from donor countries such as Norway, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, Lebanon has secured funding for 140,000 pupils. But there is a shortfall of $35 million to fill all 200,000 places.

Mayas says ‘I still can’t really read but I’ve started’

With less than a month to go before the new school term begins, youth campaigners – including A World at School’s network of Global Youth Ambassadors – are rallying and demanding donor governments urgently close the funding gap to guarantee that the remaining 60,000 children can go to school.

This week, the governments of Sweden, the Netherlands and France are being sent letters from children who are returning to school in their own country and are calling for the girls and boys displaced by the four-year Syrian crisis to have the same opportunity.

The governments will also be presented with the #UpForSchool Petition, which has more than nine million signatories calling for children to be given the opportunity to go to school around the world. The petition will be delivered by our Global Youth Ambassadors to the embassies of donor countries in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

GYA Victoria Kallberg from Sweden said: “I can remember my own first day back at school. I was so excited to see my friends and worried that I hadn’t done my homework properly, particularly the maths. Imagine if that was all that the children in Lebanon had to worry about.

Ahmad works for up to 12 hours each day in a store

“I am so concerned about the children who have lost years of education as a result of the conflict in Syria. If I had missed out on three or four years of education I might never have gone back to school and I worry about what will happen to this generation of Syrian children. My government can make a real difference to their future. Young people want to support them in doing that.”

Mayas and Ahmad are just two of the 500,000 refugee children now living in Lebanon after being displaced by the Syrian conflict.

Ahmad, 14, left school when his family – there are two more brothers and another sister – arrived in Lebanon a year ago after fleeing Al-Joubar near Damascus. They live in two rooms in the Saida region.

A bright and confident boy, he loves maths and wants to be an engineer – partly so he can help to rebuild Syria. He said: “I miss everything about Syria, it’s my country. I went to school in Syria and here I don’t go any more. I can’t go because I have to work because my family doesn’t have enough money.”

Abed Alshami works seven days a week in a bag factory

Ahmad began teaching his sister the alphabet recently. Mayas said: “Sometimes I play a game with my brother where we choose a letter and then we have to write down an animal, a person and a place beginning with it. It’s fun and it’s good for practising letters and writing.

“I was very sad when I left school, and I’m still sad because I’m only just learning a bit of reading and writing now.”

Abed Alshami, 10, has lost track of how long he’s been in Lebanon but his father says it is three years. His family moved there from Shaghour, near Damascus.

He said: “I miss studying and playing with the teacher. I used to like drawing best. I went to a school for a while in Lebanon but it was in French and I didn’t understand anything so I left. It was hard. Even in Arabic I don’t read and write very well.”

After his father broke his shoulder falling down stairs, Abed had to get a job in a bag-making factory to support the family. He added: “I don’t play because I go to work and I come home late and I never get vacations. I used to like riding a bike but I don’t have one here so I don’t do it anymore.”

Nour wants to be a doctor so she can help injured people 

Nour Mohammed Saleem Takla lives with nine of her family spanning four generations from Al-Joubar, near Damascus. The 15-year-old lives in a house dark with pain and mourning – she has lost a brother, an uncle and other relatives in the fighting and bombing in Syria. Her parents are divorced and her father is still in Syria. She doesn’t know if he is alive.

Nour said: “My brother was on the school bus and a gunfight broke out. He got caught in the middle and was killed by a sniper. He was 15.

“I stopped going to school in the middle of fifth grade when I was 12, when we came to Lebanon. I was very smart at school but because I haven’t been for such a long time I’m forgetting what I used to know.

“I want to go back to school. I’d be so thankful if I could go back.”

Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School and President of children’s charity Theirworld, said: “The Lebanese government has said it will open its doors to 200,000 children this year and this promise must not fail due to a lack of donor funding.  

“As children around the world go back to school, there are Syrian children who have fled their homes and schools who are now unable to get an education in a new country. This is a unique opportunity to make a difference to those children’s future but time is running out.”

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