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The Hope School – Educating Syrian Refugee Children

The Hope School opened in October 2015 and continues to support and teach 500 Syrian refugee children in the Bekaa Valley, Leabanon. The school contains twelve classrooms, a playground, library and conference room.

London Speaker Bureau (LSB) has partnered the charity Nadja Now to support the school’s ongoing work.

Scattered throughout Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, thousands of informal tented settlements lie on the fringes of farms and villages and farms that fill the rural area. Living in these tents are families fleeing from the war in Syria. Facing a long winter in harsh conditions and with limited access to even the most basic of services, these families dream of giving their children an escape from a life they did not ask for. Like any parents, their greatest desire is to provide a safe space for their children to receive the basic education they so desperately need to have a chance at building a future of hope and opportunity.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, an estimated 11 million people have fled their homes. Syria’s neighbouring countries, already facing their own socio-economic problems, have borne the brunt of the ever worsening refugee crisis. UNHCR states that more than 1.1million Syrian refugees have registered in Lebanon, a country roughly half the size of Wales. The Lebanese government estimates that real numbers lie somewhere around 1.5 million.  Syrian refugees now make up over a quarter of the Lebanese population. This is placing huge strain on an already underfunded and overburdened public sector. Syrian children often face seemingly insurmountable challenges to gaining access to basic human rights- those of education and protection from child labour.

Rising to the challenge facing the Lebanese school system, the Lebanese government has taken several positive steps to adapt to the crisis situation and enroll as many Syrian students as possible into formal education. Yet, with no end to the conflict in sight, the public education system has struggled to keep pace. Currently, 250,000 children—approximately half of the nearly 500,000 school-aged Syrian children registered in Lebanon- are not attending school. Some have never even stepped inside a classroom.

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A recent visit to the Hope School by Keynote Speaker and Malaysian Artist Red Hong Yi

And if opportunities for school places do arise, large discrepancies in education level due to language barriers or missed school time presents another challenge to Syrian children. Syrian children are ever-increasingly facing the threat of becoming part of a lost generation. Children are the future peacebuilders of Syria, and it is vital that their education is prioritized.

In order to meet the needs of Syrian refugee children, non-governmental organisations have set up hundreds of non-formal education schools. These schools are filling a crucial gap in the education sector by providing some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children a safe place to learn and play with others. One of those NGOs is Najda Now. With the support of the London Speaker Bureau, Najda Now founded a school 2 years ago that now provides 400 children with the education they so desperately need. These children now spend their days with teachers who care about them, attending maths, English and Arabic lessons, in the hope that one day they may be able to integrate into the Lebanese school system.

The Al Amal (hope) school operates year-round with ten teachers and a head teacher, Lina Hassad.  All of the staff are Syrian refugees themselves, bright young graduates tasked with not only the role of educator, but also as caregivers, working tirelessly to significantly reduce the stress and trauma many of the children face in their everyday lives. They rise to the challenge of providing a positive and supportive environment so that all children, no matter their home life, have a place to relax, learn and for the entirety of the school-day. They instill in the children a sense of confidence and self-belief that goes along with gaining new skills and interacting with other children.

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Red Hong Yi meeting some of the children at the Hope School.

Besides providing essential education to Syrian children, the Al Amal school also acts as a much-needed community center for both Syrian and Lebanese people living in the area. Najda Now partners with other NGOs and grassroots organisations in the area to provide workshops for those in need. This has included workshops for computer skills for youth and a sewing workshop for women. The school will also soon be part of a puppet-theatre project that aims to provide psychosocial support for young Syrian children through making and performing puppet shows that spread awareness of issues related to children’s rights and peacebuilding.

The running of the school is currently entirely reliant on private donations. Financial insecurity and lack of recourses threatens the school’s continued operation.  In order to continue playing a pivotal role in the lives of Syrian children, the school is currently searching for further funding to ensure it can sustainably run as a trusted learning center well into the future.

Keynote speaker and alternative artist Red Hong Yi recently visited the Hope School and gave a presentation to the children about harnessing creativity and her own journey to becoming an artist using alternative tools such as basket balls, chop sticks and socks to name a few!

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