Canadian Jesuits International supports the work of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Lebanon. JRS provides emergency assistance to Syrian refugee families and educational opportunities for Syrian children.
Through its family support program, JRS is reaching out to improve the living conditions of 800 Syrian refugee families in Beirut, Bekaa, Byblos, and Mount Lebanon. JRS teams undertake need assessments through recurrent family visits, and provide assistance in the form of monthly food baskets, winter clothes and blankets, and other basic relief materials.
On the education front, JRS is working to increase the enrollment and retention rate of Syrian refugee children into the local Lebanese education system. This is achieved primarily through the implementation of an accelerated learning program (ALP) in French, English, Arabic, math, art, peace education, sports and computer classes. ALP targets children from 8 to 16 years of age. Kindergarten programs are also provided for children from 3 to 7.
Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon, the Government of Lebanon has attempted to facilitate access to education for Syrian children. However, the final decision of registering a Syrian refugee in a Lebanese public school is left to school principals. In many cases, principals are giving priority to Lebanese students and Syrian children are being left behind.
Since January 2014, almost 80 Lebanese public schools have introduced “second-shift” systems, whereby these schools provide education to one set of students early in the day and another set in the afternoon and evening. Almost 27,000 Syrian pupils have benefitted from second shifts; however, 2014 UNHCR figures show that 73% of Syrian school-age refugees still cannot access a public education. In many cases, schools are too far from where the refugees live or they are located beyond checkpoints. In other cases, schools have delayed starting second shifts. Syrian students who lose more than four years of school will not be eligible to reintegrate into public system. This already means that those who were pulled out of school near the beginning of the conflict in 2011 may not be able to resume their studies.
Since the Syrian crisis started, education has received too little attention from humanitarian groups. This is having profound consequences. Children who remain out of school face threats of early marriage and child labour, and young people become frustrated and vulnerable to recruitment by radical groups like ISIS. While education cannot fully answer these threats, the hope it offers can greatly diminish them.
A new strategy called RACE (Reaching All Children with Education) has been adopted by the Government of Lebanon to get all refugee children into education. The implementation of RACE has a long way to go because the educational background of Syrian children is quite different from Lebanese children and the failure rate for entrance exams is high. But JRS is one agency that is committed to helping Syrian refugee children meet the requirements of the Lebanese curriculum by tackling areas of special need through their programs.
JRS Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): Fr Daniel Corrou SJ
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