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Middle East and Africa

Lebanon: school of life in Marj El Khokh camp

The experience of AVSI, the Italian NGO.

Half of them are children. This is the main point of the statistics relative to the 800 thousand refugees registered in Lebanon. If you count also the non officially registered we reach about a million. We are facing an enormous exodus from Syria to Lebanon, of women and children under ten years of age. The older, in fact, all to often remain in Syria to fight.

 

These children haven’t been to school for at least two years, and that is why the main aim we are facing is to get as many as possible to go back to school. For two reasons in particular. The first is contingent, that is: to help them not to lose the scholastic year and part of their education. The second concerns a basic aspect: to guarantee these children a minimum of normality. Being a refugee is not in any way “normal” because you live far away from home and often far from your family, from your village, under a temporary tent. You escaped from a place of violence, and you arrive in a place where you soon realize that violence has followed you. Because refugee camps are also places of violence. Therefore, going to school, having a teacher and a copy book and a pen are all part of normality which allows these children to regain, even if only partially, a sense of stability.

 

However, this is not so simple. The Lebanese school programs are different to those of Syria. The Lebanese study some subjects including mathematics and geography in English and French, while the Syrian study in Arabic. Therefore there is a difference when a Syrian child goes into a Lebanese class. We organize preparatory course and catch –up courses for Syrian children, because we have an interest in getting Syrian children to the same level as their companions, while at the same time it is important not to slow down the scholastic programs for Lebanese children. This would in fact cause the Syrian children to be seen as a problem.

 

 

But there are diverse difficulties in each activity, including what we call “ the last mile”.

 

In the case of the children of the school this means accompanying them from the camp right up to the classroom. The distance is not just a detail: we have to organize transport by school bus, which is not to be taken for granted because there are many kilometers to travel and sometimes there is snow in winter. Without this bus the children are simply not able to get to school. Therefore all the efforts for their insertion and supplying them with pens and copybooks are vain. We work together with UNICEF but even UNICEF cannot afford to pay for everything. The needs are always greater than what we have at our disposal.

 

In this chain of organizational efforts and practical consequences there are also the unexpected extraordinary ‘advantages’. Just think of the work we did with the families last summer and especially with the fathers. Some of them did not absolutely want their children to go to school. They said the scholastic System was not the Syrian one, and that their children had lost a scholastic year, and it would be useless to let them start again. Besides, they didn’t dislike the idea of their children working because they could then bring a little money into the family. But we didn’t give up. We worked patiently with the parents on relations, on sensitizing them to listen to their needs and exchange some ideas. Then came the surprise: few weeks ago five fathers came to expressly ask us to allow them to send their children to school. Every day something improves in the relationship with them and you cannot know when something will come from this. But I know that last year 25 children left Marj El Khokh camp to go to school, and this year we expect a hundred enrolments.

 

 

It s a good step forward, but still not sufficient for us because we want all the 250 children to attend school. If a hundred go to school, the other 150 remain in the camp.

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