BEIRUT — In the shade of a tree on the outskirts of an informal refugee camp, 10-year-old Bara’a stands poised beside a blackboard as a group of younger children look up at her expectantly. Bara’a is a Syrian refugee living in Mount Lebanon. It is 2016, Bara’a has not attended school since first grade, but she is determined to teach whatever she remembers to those younger than her with even less education than herself.
In Lebanon, the world’s largest host of refugees per capita, nearly one in every four people is a refugee. Of the country’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 500,000 are school-aged children. Approximately half of those children are not in school. Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education has made impressive efforts to enroll Syrian refugee children in public schools, but with a national bill of $13.1 billion already poured into hosting Syrian refugees, the country’s resources are sufficiently strained.
A powerful couple with a rich history in philanthropy, George and Amal Clooney established the Clooney Foundation for Justice in late 2016. The stated intentions of the foundation are “advancing justice for victims of war, justice for vulnerable children deprived of opportunities to learn, and justice for refugees seeking to rebuild their lives abroad.”
Among multiple projects in the works, one entitled “Empowering a Generation” aims to advance educational opportunities for Syrian refugees. The plans were announced at a United Nations meeting focused on the refugee crisis, led by then-President Barack Obama.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice hopes to help the 250,000 Syrian refugee children return to school, and plans are already in progress to meet this goal as quickly as possible. A target is set to enroll 10,000 Syrian refugee children in English-language pop-up schools by next September, and enroll an additional 50,000 children by 2018.
To achieve these impressive goals, the Clooney Foundation for Justice has made promising alliances. Google paired with the Clooneys’ initiative and gave $1 million to the “Empowering a Generation” project. The Foundation is also working with SABIS, a global education provider with previous success in educating refugee children in Lebanon.
“We want to get every single out-of-school child in Lebanon an education,” Amal Clooney said. Much like Bara’a of Mount Lebanon, Amal knows how imperative it is for every child to have access to an education. She reflected on her own family’s history of leaving Lebanon in the midst of war and attributed all that she has accomplished to the opportunity she was given for an education.
The Clooney Foundation for Justice calls the quarter of a million Syrian refugee children out of school the makings of a “lost generation.” These uneducated children are a missed opportunity for the advancement of Lebanon, as well as a huge security threat in the region. But above all, the children themselves will lose the ability to change their lives and those of future generations. George and Amal Clooney have set out to counter these threats to the future.
With the Clooney Foundation for Justice promising exciting developments in the months to come, Bara’a and her temporary students may soon be back in a classroom of their own.
– Sophie Nunnally