An eye-opening experience in Lebanon

In May, the People’s Postcode Lottery visited Lebanon with Theirworld to witness up close how the largest refugee crisis in forty years is experienced through the eyes of its youngest victims. The following is a guest blog from their director, Annemiek Hoogenboom. 

Last month I visited Lebanon with Theirworld because we, at People’s Postcode Lottery are concerned about the chances of education for children living in conflict areas. We heard so many moving, emotional and also enthusiastic stories of Syrian mothers, children, headmasters, teachers, and volunteers. I was moved by the dreams of Ahmed and Mohamed Yusuf to become engineers to help rebuild their cities, and Moneima and Aisha to become a doctor to help Syrian families.

Currently 28 million children globally living in conflict and emergency situations are not in school and have little chance of going back. Since the Syrian conflict began in 2012,. thousands of children have been murdered, maimed or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. Thousands of schools have been destroyed, are being used as shelters or used for military purposes.

As a result, over 2 million children are out of school and in need of an education. These children are at immediate risk of exploitation and being recruited by the fighting parties.

Over 1.2 million people now live in Lebanon who have fled from Syria as a result of the conflict, and almost half of these are children. The Lebanese government and the international community are working hard to accommodate these children as far as possible. But last year only around 110,000 children were able to access formal education. NGOs are doing what they can to offer non-formal opportunities for learning, but there are still thousands of children not in school, who have now been forced into work in order to survive and support their families.

We visited Movement Social, an organisation offering support to Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese children in Beirut, and met some children who are being supported to get back into the school system. Dilan, in her acting class, told me how she had been out of school for over a year since fleeing Syria under treat of attack. She worked in a garlic factory when she first arrived with her mother but was never paid. As she does not have the right papers and does not speak the language, Dilan has been attending the Movement Social centre in order to learn Arabic and catch up with her learning to enter back in to the formal education system. Thanks to the support of Movement Social, campaigning by organisations such as Theirworld, and the commitment of the Lebanese government, Dilan now has a chance to move on. A mother, worried about the future of her daughter, told me, “We don’t know when we are going back, we can’t just sit around and wait. Being idle is psychologically destructive.”

But for many children the situation is still bleak. We travelled to Bekaa valley, an area which has one of the highest number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Many Syrian children and families are living in informal settlements, in plastic tents, which do little to provide any escape from the soaring temperatures. The Beyond Association works closely with UNICEF to run a safe space where children can learn and prepare themselves for public school. For girls this may be a bridge too far, as parents fear that without school busses the girls can’t travel safely outside of the settlements, and for many Syrian girls, early marriage is becoming too common. A girl called Fatima gave me a flower as a sign of friendship, others offered me little self-made bracelets. What incredible hospitality.

Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have this year supported Theirworld’s work in Lebanon to help ensure a brighter future for every child displaced by conflict. Theirworld has been working with the Lebanese government, NGOs and the international community to find a solution for out of school children in Lebanon. As a result of this work, the government is running a double shift school system where Lebanese children are taught in the morning and Syrian children in the afternoon, using the same schools, the same teachers and the same curriculum. For the coming school year the government has committed to expand this system to accommodate 200,000 children displaced from Syria. But this still does not reach every child and more funding is needed.

Last year only 1% of humanitarian aid went to education leaving a generation of children out of school. Next month world leaders are meeting in Oslo to discuss funding for education, and Theirworld is calling on them to launch a new fund for education in emergencies to help these children return to the classroom. You can help by adding your voice to this call through signing the #UpForSchool petition, to stop a generation missing out on school and to give children hope for the future.