Syrian refugee children adjust to their new Lebanese schools
By Soha Bsat Boustani and Souleyma Mardam Bey
When asked what his dreams are, 6-year-old Abdullah* smiles and says that he wants to be a child and enjoy the moments as long as they last. “I want to love life, and, more importantly, I want to be loved and surrounded by the people I care about.”
SIDON and BAALBECK, Lebanon, 8 January 2013 - Abdullah says that hygiene issues him to leave his country. At least, this version of his family’s flight is the one he prefers.
“My house in Syria is invaded by mice, so my father forced us to move as quickly as we could to Lebanon until he finds a solution to disinfect our home.”
The raging fighting is not something he wants to remember.
Fleeing the ongoing violence
More than 163,000 Syrian refugees have officially sought shelter in Lebanon from the ongoing violence in the Syrian Arab Republic. The number of refugees in Lebanon is thought to be substantially higher, but security and other reasons have kept many from registering.
Last week alone, some 6,600 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR.
“School is the most important thing”
Abdullah’s family arrived in Sidon, southern Lebanon, last week, after having fled Homs. Abdullah’s parents do their best to protect all of their children from the psychosocial effects of the war. But children living in confined settings overhear private conversations between their parents and are aware of the terrible deterioration of the situation inside their country.
Abdullah is enrolled in Al Ahed Al Jadid Elementary Public School in Sidon. According to the school principal, approximately 40 per cent of the children are Syrian refugees.
Smiling and studious, Abdullah is greatly appreciated by his teachers and classmates. He is keen on learning and urges his friends to be serious in class. “School is the most important thing. We have to learn if we want to have a better life,” he says.
The school is a French-speaking one. “French is an added-value!” exclaims Abdullah.
Other children are less enthusiastic about the language barrier. Twelve-year-old Marwan is enrolled in Darb es sim Complementary School for Boys and Girls in Sidon. “Honestly, French is too complicated for me. Thank God I am gifted in English and Arabic. But I am really terrible in French. This is very problematic since I am registered in a French-speaking school!”
Reaching children with education
Abdullah and Marwan are two of the many Syrian refugee children UNICEF and local implementing partner CARITAS are supporting. Since the beginning of November, UNICEF has focused its emergency education programme on providing school supplies to Syrian refugee children and Lebanese children of host families. Because refugees are settling within poor Lebanese communities, emergency assistance is reaching out to vulnerable Lebanese families.
To date, UNICEF has supported the enrolment of 13,000 Syrian students in public schools by providing them with tuition fees, school bags and uniforms.
Another priority of UNICEF is retaining children in schools by developing the capacity of hosting schools. UNICEF is supporting the development of an inclusive learning environment in almost 110 hosting schools through targeted training of school staff, teachers, principals and parents on active learning, positive discipline and inclusive education.
Providing remedial classes
Further to the northeast, Tarek and his family are living in Baalbeck, in the Bekaa Valley. They arrived three weeks ago. They crossed the border with almost nothing and cannot meet their basic needs.
The first days at school were difficult, says Tarek, as he had no books and no pens. Local UNICEF partner, the NGO SAWA, has provided the family with vouchers so that the children could buy the necessary stationery.
The SAWA Centre helps Syrian refugee children adapt to the Lebanese curriculum by providing remedial classes in French and English. The Centre also provides a community centre – a much-needed gathering point in which Lebanese and Syrian refugee children with different cultural backgrounds can play together and find psychosocial support, when needed.
For Zaki Rifai, the founder of SAWA, remedial classes are fundamental to integrating Syrian refugee children into Lebanese schools. Mr. Rifai says that the focus should not only be to enrol children in school, but also to make them stay in school. With no remedial classes, children are much likelier to abandon school.
*Names have been changed to protect children’s identities.