The recent violence in Afrin, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta suggests all too graphically why the Syrian refugee crisis remains the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II. Syria's civil war has driven millions of families from their homes, exacting a devastating toll on the nation's children. More than 5.3 million Syrians — including 2.5 million children, for example — have been living as registered refugees in nearby countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 90 percent of these Syrian refugees confront high poverty rates, high costs of living, limited job opportunities and the exhaustion of family savings.
More than 90 percent of Syrian refugees confront high poverty rates, high costs of living, limited job opportunities and the exhaustion of family savings.
Lebanon, which has the world’s highest per capita refugee population, has been particularly affected by an influx of more than one million Syrian refugees. This is equivalent to nearly one quarter of the country's total population before the Syrian conflict began. The surge has taxed local resources, particularly schools, and has affected both refugee children and Lebanese students.
As Human Rights Watch has reported: “Lost revenue due to the war in Syria and the burden of hosting refugees have cost Lebanon an estimated $13.1 billion, and the refugee influx has strained public services and infrastructure, including health, energy, water, waste collection, and education.”
The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon has also reported that, despite generous support, international funding for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan “…has not been enough to turn the tide of refugees’ deepening poverty and vulnerabilities affecting both Lebanese host communities and refugees…families are surviving on the bare minimum, having long exhausted their limited resources. [Some]…70.5 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line with $3.8 a day. Some 30 percent of the Lebanese population also live below the poverty line, and 10 percent live in extreme poverty.”
Significant percentages of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are not enrolled in school.
The most recent estimates from UNHCR suggest that 37% of registered refugee children in Lebanon aged 6-to-14 are not enrolled in formal schooling, while 69% of registered refugee children aged 3-5 are not participating in formal education, either, although schooling for this latter group is not compulsory in Lebanon. Even worse, the lives of these children have been shaped by violence, displacement and lack of opportunity, and many have never been enrolled in formal education. Without access to learning and a return to a sense of normalcy, these children risk becoming a lost generation.
A New Partnership for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon
To help address the urgent needs of both Syrian refugee children and their host country, the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced a $3.25 million partnership with UNICEF in July 2017, which includes a generous donation from Google.org, and a $1 million in-kind technology contribution from HP. The partnership will support eight public schools in Lebanon as they provide critical education opportunities to approximately 3,000 formerly out-of-school Syrian refugee students.
Through support from The Clooney Foundation for Justice, these eight schools have opened doors for the first time to students in the second shift, allowing Syrian refugee students to enroll in school, and also to receive transportation and school supplies under the country-wide “Reaching All Children with Education” initiative of the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) — to which UNICEF contributes. MEHE oversees the implementation of national policies, trainings and curricula in 360 “second-shift” public schools across Lebanon. UNICEF has invested in the existing MEHE public school system to strengthen the Lebanese education system as a whole, in a sustainable manner, as part of a larger strategy to benefit a country that is also struggling under an enormous influx of Syrian refugees.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice partnership is also supporting an innovative pilot program that will provide technology tools in these schools to advance learning outcomes for both refugee children and Lebanese school children.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice is committed to supporting efforts that ensure children get the educational experiences they need to thrive.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice is committed to supporting efforts that ensure children get the educational experiences they need to thrive. UNICEF has been working with partners across the region to put children first since the Syrian refugee crisis began. In addition to providing emergency assistance and essential services, including child-friendly spaces, UNICEF and partners have been at the forefront of efforts to address the long-term needs of Syrian refugee children, including education, counseling and social inclusion.
An Inner-City Lebanese School
The inner city areas of Lebanon struggle with funding and resources. The movement of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, often heading to cities in search of work, has placed a seemingly insurmountable burden on the education system, with every school seeing rising pupil numbers and static levels of resources.
All areas of Lebanon have found themselves affected in some way by the overflow of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. Communities have seen their long-term stability disturbed and disrupted. Social facilities, such as schools have been stretched to, and often beyond, their limits.
But the one thread that ties these communities together is the men and women who are committed to the importance of continuing education for all — Lebanese and newcomers alike.
Madame Claude Harfouche is the director of one such school in a deprived area of Furn Al Shibak. She does the best she can, but with the addition of a second shift of 260 young Syrians for the first time this year, sees challenges and a constant juggling of resources ahead.
“As director,” Harfouche explained, “I’m trying to recreate this school as a model for all schools in Lebanon. This is why we need support across all aspects of the school for the benefit of the students, the teachers and the local community. Here, we have the possibility to become a focal point for education and learning in the community.”
“The school is large enough to absorb a greater number of students, and this neighborhood includes a large number of refugees, so we must plan for their future and incorporate technology. Schooling today is about more than simply books and writing,” Harfouche added.
Our teachers and students deserve the latest and the best — to compete with the world.
“We particularly need to access teacher-training to enable them to show children how to adapt to technological approaches and how to apply them,” Harfouche said. “This interactive approach will help in the teaching process by making it more engaging. Our teachers and students deserve the latest and the best — to compete with the world.”
Marah is a Syrian refugee student at Harfouche’s school. Originally from Deraa in Syria, and now 11 years old, Marah spent the past five years in Lebanon. She tells a familiar tale: “When I first arrived in Lebanon, I was unable to join a school — there was no provision for children like me. In Syria, I only completed half a year of school, then I was out of school for a full year. I like it here, I like my teachers, and I’m happy that I’m able to learn while I’m here.”
I like my teachers, and I’m happy that I’m able to learn while I’m here.
Marah added: “The learning environment is good here. My favorite lesson is English, second biology. In Syria, we didn’t learn another language, only Arabic. To be able to learn languages here is good, and it will help me as I grow older and can meet other people and let them understand me. It is my wish that we could work with computers at school. My family has a computer at home, and I love using it because I’m constantly curious about the world, and it’s an easy way to learn a lot of information very quickly. We should have [a computer] at school, too — we miss out on so much by not being connected to the rest of the world while we’re at school.”
A Top-Performing Lebanese School
Majed Kiwan directs the Chhim Public School, one of the largest in the Chouf area, as well as the most academically successful. “Our 9th Graders are the highest achievers across the whole of Lebanon this year,” Kiwan explained proudly.
But Kiwan is worried about significant student over-enrollment — 522 Lebanese and Syrians in his first-shift classes, and 420 in his exclusively Syrian second-shift. The large number of Syrian refugees has created a huge burden on his school — not only in human resources, but also in terms of practical and physical elements — the electricity consumption is higher, general wear and tear has increased and, of course, there are higher demands on books and stationary.
“One of the other greatest burdens generated by the influx of refugees is that we end up with a very high number of students per class. In our first-shift classes, the maximum is limited by law to 25 per class. Yet there’s no limit to second shift numbers. We’re reaching up to 47 per class! The only alternative is to turn children away, to consign them to growing up without an education and that, of course, would be even worse,” said Kiwan.
New technology must play a high-profile role if children are to receive the education they deserve.
“We need to be looking at new areas and finding new ways to teach the child and how to engage them. New technology must play a high-profile role if we are to give the children the education they deserve,” Kiwan added.
Due to the shortage of time, the second-shift students do not have an opportunity to access extra-curricular activities in the same way as first-shift students do. They’re already missing out on child favorites including drawing and sports but, most concerning of all, they are not able to use the school’s computer lab.
Kiwan and his teachers are aware that work-related computer skills and experience with technology are critical for their students’ futures too, and he’s keen to boost his school’s tech credentials — it’s at the top of his very long list.
Amina, a 15-year-old Kurd from Syria, is typical of the school’s second-shift students. When she first arrived in Lebanon as a refugee, her hopes of joining a school were dashed — there were simply no places for children like her.
“This is my first year at this school. When I first arrived in Lebanon as a 9-year-old, I was unable to register at a school and then, after a year, I was able to join a three-month accelerated learning program. After that, I joined a public school,” Amina explained.
What I most appreciate about this school is the support it gives me and my classmates.
“What I most appreciate about this school is the amount of support it gives me and my classmates. Some of my friends had been out of school for up to two or three years. Here, the director, principal and teachers have worked hard.
We know other children are luckier than us and get to use computers all the time — we’re falling behind if we’re not at a school that can give us access to use computers ourselves. It would be good if we could use computers at school. Most of us don’t know how to use them — so if the teachers were able to teach us I know it would be very good for us. We know we’re going to need to rely on computer skills when we go for jobs.”
As the Syrian conflict continues, the possibility that Syrian refugees — in Lebanon or elsewhere — will able able to return to Syria any time soon seems dim. In the meantime, Syria refugee children in Lebanon need your help.
Learn more about The Clooney Foundation for Justice.
Learn more about UNICEF’s programs for Syrian refugees.
TOP PHOTO: When this photo was taken, only seven of the 17 Syrian refugee children pictured above attended school in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where they were living with their families after fleeing Syria's civil war. Now, with the help of The Clooney Foundation for Justice, approximately 3,000 children like these are getting a chance at an education and a future. ©UNICEF/UN043253/Romenzi