By Martin Accad
I witnessed, last weekend, the physical transformation of a Syrian young lady sitting in my living room. As my wife and I helped her and her younger cousin complete an application for a university grant for Syrian refugees, they had just returned from a last-minute visit to a university in Lebanon to register for the coming year on the final day eligible for registration. Mona and Nahla (not their real names) have not yet been accepted into the university, and the decision of the scholarship body will not be known until the end of this month. There is a possibility that neither of these decisions may be in their favor in the end. But the sudden prospect of returning to university, after their studies were interrupted by the Syrian civil war over a year ago, clearly gave birth to the hope for a completely unexpected dream. As we reread with Mona her own words, expressing her own dream of one day being part of the reconstruction of Syria by educating emerging generations of children, her eyes welled up with tears, which she promptly wiped away with her hijab. By the end of the evening, she literally and physically looked different. Her face was radiant with renewed self-confidence. Her whole composure spoke of an energetic young lady ready to take on the world’s toughest challenges. I discovered last weekend that hope actually transforms you physically.
Today one of the toughest challenges facing us with the Syrian crisis is the unschooled children. Currently in Lebanon alone, they are more than 300,000. It is expected that we will have half a million unschooled Syrian children in Lebanon by the end of this year. That’s more than half of our entire population of Lebanese school-aged children. Experts refer to children who miss their education as a result of war as a ‘lost generation’. A ‘lost generation’ will be prone, instead, to turn to anger, violence and to the perpetuation of war and conflict.
Our sister institution, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), has already launched an initiative to fight this terrifying prospect, headed up by Rupen Das, also director of IMES’ MRel program (Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies). Through their partnership with churches in the Bekaa valley, special educational programs are being set up to school Syrian refugee children and employ Syrian refugee teachers to teach them. I am told that this initiative will be able to assimilate about 300 children. Another similar initiative has been set up in the southern city of Sidon by long-term friend of IMES, Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zayd, head judge of the Sunni religious court of Sidon, and in partnership with World Vision Lebanon, another partner of IMES. Other NGO’s, such as Tahaddi, have been working frantically to integrate Syrian children into the Lebanese school system. They have also developed an after-school program for children that have already missed too much to be reintegrated into the national school system. Next week, a local Baptist Church in Beirut will also be launching a 5-day-a-week, after-school Learning Support Project which will integrate Lebanese & Syrian students at risk of dropping out, or not currently attending school. IMES’s very own Arthur Brown is heavily involved in this project. These are all fantastic initiatives, and I’m sure there are many more that I’m not aware of. But in the overall disastrous picture that faces us, these are merely drops in an ocean of need. It is estimated that the current Lebanese school system will only be able to integrate a few thousand more children in its current operation.
But here’s the twist: some time next week, 16-year old Pakistani campaigner Malala Yousafzai and UN Education Envoy (former UK Prime Minister) Gordon Brown will be addressing the UN in New York about a plan consisting in keeping Lebanese schools open day and night over 2 or 3 shifts, employing Syrian refugee teachers, aiming at schooling all of the unschooled Syrian refugee children in Lebanon! Of course the price tag for such an initiative is massive.
Earlier today I received an email from Avaaz.org, a campaigning organization with a network of over 25 million online members, about their latest petition: “Syria: A brighter tomorrow”. They are supporting the Malala-Brown initiative, by seeking to raise $1 million before September 21. Armed with this check, Malala and Brown will call on all donor countries to match this donation 10 to 1 in order to reach the stated goal. As I write this, the campaign has already managed to raise $737,747 (as I completed the first draft of this blog last night, they were still at $497,925!). You can pledge as little as 4 Euros through their website. I have just contributed 16 Euros. Will you join us, at IMES, as we rally our friends together in support of this campaign?
If you would prefer, or would also like, to donate towards LSESD-related projects for the schooling of Syrian children, please click here.
I had never thought before that I could have such a positive influence on shaping the future of an entire nation by clicking a few times on my laptop mouse!