“Millions of Syrian children should not pay the price for diplomatic failure, for political failure”

Education in emergencies

Tom Fletcher with Sarah Fleihan and Mona Hassan Pictures: A World at School/Tabitha Ross


By Sarah Fleihan and Mona Hassan, a World at School Global Youth Ambassadors from Lebanon

Five years have passed since the beginning of the Syrian crisis and the responsibilities of neighbouring countries for Syrian refugees have increased year on year across the region. 

The international community is presented with many significant challenges in securing refugees’ basic needs, while the war continues to cause ongoing displacement. 

Tom chats with one of the students at Al Mtein public school

The education crisis must be regarded as one of the priorities, as education or the lack of it will affect the future quality of life of millions of refugee children.

Former British ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher’s first return to the country after the end of his term of duty last year came within the framework of the campaign for the right to education in the region and to secure additional school places for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 

Mr Fletcher came to see progress in the Lebanese Ministry of Education’s implementation of the double-shift system, as well as other education projects implemented by NGOs and businesses.

Time for some fun as Tom arm-wrestles with a student

The well-known former ambassador and writer of the Naked Diplomat blog started his tour on May 6 by visiting Al Mtein public school.

There the international children’s charity Theirworld is working with the ministry to implement two pilot projects aimed at supporting Lebanese and Syrian children’s school attendance and achievement through provision of milk and a daily healthy school snack, and through integrating technology into the classroom.

He showed his admiration, commenting: “The key here is that Theirworld is testing new ideas to see if they work and if they do they can be scaled up nationally and even globally.  And what you can see in Mtein is that these concepts are working.”

Children draw what they think a safe school should look like

After sharing a snack with a group of students, observing a lesson in the tech room and visiting a first-year art class, he expressed his admiration for the way the school and its entire staff have worked to successfully integrate Lebanese and Syrian students. 

He emphasised his support for the double-shift system and his belief in its effectiveness in the reduction of the numbers of Syrian children out of school.

Mr Fletcher now works as Strategy Director for the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), which seeks to mobilise organisations, business institutions and business people globally to support education. 

Global Youth Ambassador Sarah Fleihan at Al Mtein School 

In relation to his new role, his next visit was to the SABIS school in Mtein, the charity wing of the normally fee-paying chain of international SABIS schools – the Mtein establishment does not charge fees yet remains a private school.

Mr Fletcher is interested in learning lessons from this model and commented that “the education is of a very high quality, in a way it’s higher than the education that I had or most of us received”.

He also inferred that it is really important to be aware of the vast gap between the support received by private schools compared with those in the public sector.

GYA Mona Hassan checks out a student’s work

He said: “Governments alone cannot crack the problem – we need businesses as well, and not only to provide education. We need to think about buildings, about transport.”

Of course, we asked the former diplomat about his passion for this cause, and he replied: “For me, particularly here in the Middle East, the education effort is unfinished business. 

“I was ambassador here for four years and was part of the failed diplomacy to stop the war in Syria.  I feel passionately that millions of Syrian children should not pay the price for diplomatic failure, for political failure. Teaching is also in my DNA – my family were all teachers.’

Back to school for Tom as he listens to the lesson

He admitted that before joining the Foreign Office he started his career as a teacher. “I was not very good at that so I became a diplomat’, he quipped.

Mr Fletcher is busy meanwhile on many levels of his life. He returned to complete his studies in addition of being a professor in University of New York and in The Democratic Academy. 

He has also written a book entitled Naked Diplomacy. But the most important project that he’s involved in, according to him, is working with Theirworld and GBC-Education on getting one million Syrian refugee children back into school.

Tom Fletcher visit to Mtein School in Lebanon picture by A World at School/Tabitha Ross

Tom Fletcher is presented with drawings by the children of safe schools. Read more here about what A World at School is doing with these drawings.

As for his visit to Lebanon, he talked about how special the country is to him, how at home he felt here and how he cried all the way from Beirut to Paris when he left. 

And what’s the first thing he wanted to do upon his return? Eat hummus with meat and drink a glass of Lebanese wine.

Tom Fletcher is keenly aware that education is a key right for all children in the world and a key factor affecting their lives and futures. 

A student drinks the free milk provided as part of the Theirworld meals programme to keep children in school

He came back to this country that has been so special for him for the first time and perhaps will return again soon, in order to make an impact on this cause through his status and position. 

What we actually hope is that more influential figures will use their positions to support this important cause of education.

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