By Zerene Haddad
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) expanded educational activities in 2014 in response to the growing concern that many Syrian refugee children are unable to go to school in Lebanon. Overcrowding, lack of financial means, scarcity of resources and insufficient capacity within the Lebanese public school system are major problems. While the broader NGO community and various UN agencies are working to address these problems, JRS is trying to provide Syrian children with educational opportunities right away. Many of them have already been out of school for as long as three years, severely impacting their intellectual and social development.
In addition to the schools that JRS opened in Jbeil and Kafar Zabad in 2013, it has now opened the Frans van der Lugt (FVDL) Community Centre in Bourj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut. The new centre is named after Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ, who was killed in Syria in April 2014.
The FVDL Centre operates as a school in the morning for Syrian children, and as a community centre in the afternoon and early evenings for both the local Lebanese people and the Syrian refugees living in Bourj Hammoud. Activities include the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) for children aged 4 – 16 years; literacy in Arabic and English for women; psychosocial activities; counselling; and remedial classes for children enrolled in the public school system.
The ALP curriculum offered to Syrian children focuses on English, French, Arabic, math, peace studies and computer literacy. Students attend school for five hours a day, five days a week. They also participate in psychosocial activities such as music, theatre, art and sport.
In these three locations (Beirut, Jbeil and the Bekaa Valley), JRS reaches 1,000 Syrian children with the ALP. Although it is not a permanent solution to the lack of access to education for Syrian children, the ALP is designed to bridge the gap while Syrian children wait to enter the public school system in Lebanon. Through coordination with the Lebanese government, UN agencies and NGOs, greater access to formal education for Syrians should hopefully start in early 2015.
This article by Zerene Haddad originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of CJI’s Mission News under the title “Bridging the education gap: Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.” Ms Haddad is the Regional Communications Officer of JRS Middle East and North Africa.