INSPIRATIONS: Chichester charity heads to Lebanon

As winter approaches, children are made more vulnerable
As winter approaches, children are made more vulnerable

SINCE the original brutal suppression of political protests in Syria in March, 2011, almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives.

As the conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule has escalated, entire neighbourhoods have been demolished, forcing more than nine million people from their homes.

Classrooms are bright, creative environments

Classrooms are bright, creative environments

Of those, around 3.2 million have fled to neighbouring countries, with more than a million ending up in Lebanon.

Last week, Rachel Bentley and Ben Wilkes from Chichester-based charity Children on the Edge visited a tent school in one of the camps.

“Winter is on its way so conditions are worsening, the camps are a bit of a mudbath already as it was raining hard today,” said Rachel, a director of the charity.

“In a few weeks it will be snow so I can’t imagine what surviving day-to-day will be like then.

Safe and warm in the Child Friendly Space

Safe and warm in the Child Friendly Space

“Many of the children were still wearing flip flops on their feet so they will need warm shoes for winter.

“Fortunately, the school tents have stoves in so will remain warm, bright places whatever the conditions.”

With a population of just four million itself, Lebanon has been struggling to accommodate the flood of refugees.

Large camps are not permitted by the Lebanese government and as a result, throughout Bekaa Valley, small camps of 
50-100 families have sprung up, many of which are still without basic services for children.

The official UN policy has been to integrate Syrian children into Lebanese schools, but these are now at capacity, so there is a need for education within the camps.

Although there is work to provide some informal education in the area, as a consequence of the ever-increasing influx of refugees, this cannot extend to all the Syrian camps in Bekaa Valley.

Children on the Edge is supporting its Lebanese partner, Al Rahma Al Mountassira, which provides health clinics and supplies to two camps.

After setting up and running a successful tent school in one of the camps, the charity is supporting the establishment and running of a school in the second camp.

The second tent school provides education to 74 children aged between six and 12 years.

“The schools are very impressive,” said Rachel.

“The classrooms are bright, warm, creative places for the children.

“The teachers are really creative in their approach and really engage well with the children, making learning fun.

“The schools are truly child-friendly spaces; welcoming, safe and fun.

“The curriculum is even more developed than on my previous visit and the investment in teacher training is really noticeable.

“The classrooms have beautiful artwork displayed and there is real evidence of each of them being stimulating learning environments.”

Where other projects of this kind bring in teachers from the outside, this model focuses on raising up refugee teachers from within the Syrian community.

During the visit, Ben, who is head of UK operations at Children on the Edge, said he had a ‘lightbulb moment’.

“It struck me when I was talking to Kirsten, who spent seven years inside Syria before the troubles and has been pivotal in changing the curriculum here in the camps,” he said.

“She has sourced Lebanese workbooks that are the most similar to those in Syria and then added her own spin.

“She uses Montessori techniques and lots of games and activities to help the children learn phonetics, language, maths, and science.

“The feather in her cap, was that she has been able to get a Syrian maths textbook to enable the children to learn like they do at home.

“It doesn’t sound much, but the war in Syria has meant the local schools now struggle for equipment, let alone getting materials overseas.

“For a while the textbooks were banned from leaving the country, but this one book that Kirsten obtained has now been photocopied and now the Syrian teachers treat the copies like gold!

“Kirsten’s love, care, attention and diligence have meant these children have something other children taking refuge in Lebanon don’t have.

“It’s just a small example, but because she has this approach across the board, it means that the school, the learning and therefore the experience of the children is first class.

“It’s a brilliant refugee school.”