BEIRUT — Governments and NGOs are using a variety of creative methods to help integrate Syrian refugee children in Lebanon into public schools and to make them feel at home in their communities.
In school, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are often behind their peers, and they struggle with the language difference. Schools in Lebanon teach mainly in English and French, and the Syrian children speak Arabic.
The refugee children also grapple with multiple emotional stressors: psychological trauma, adjusting to a new home and the sometimes unwelcoming attitudes of the local community.
Lebanon is host to over 1 million refugees, about half of whom are under the age of 18. Unequipped to handle the influx of students, the Lebanese school system developed the “second shift” method— they would teach the Lebanese children during normal school hours, and hold a second session of classes for Syrian children later in the afternoon. However, this system leaves the refugee children with exhausted teachers and virtually isolated from their Lebanese peers.
The Jusoor School, a nonprofit that works with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, created three learning centers. These aim to fill in the “education gap” that Syrian children often have as a result of missed or poor schooling, before placing them in a public or private Lebanese school.
This program affects more than just the children’s personal success. International Alert research says that integrating children in schools can greatly influence the workings of the larger community.
The Jusoor School places the children in one of four “levels,” where they are taught math, science, Arabic, art and physical education according to the Lebanese Arabic curriculum. The organization continues to monitor their progress even after they have entered the traditional school system.
Other groups are stepping in to help the refugees improve their proficiency in languages other than Arabic. The British Council launched a program to teach instructors how to motivate and assist young students learning English and French. The program offers practical strategies and exercises, but it also emphasizes vital social skills such as tolerance, human dignity and the right of every child to receive an education. The initiative is meant to reach 90,000 Syrian refugee children.
Children in any community need to be able to safely express their culture and creativity, and, in Beirut, several NGOs sponsor art therapy programs for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The children are able to work through the trauma they have endured at their own pace, whether that means drawing pictures of army tanks and bodies, or flowers and sunshine.
Art projects done as a group can bring together Syrian refugees from different backgrounds and help them open up about the events they have witnessed and the pain of having been displaced. In other parts of the region, such as Jordan and Kurdistan, there are projects that work with refugee children painting murals and running photography workshops. Their work is visible to the entire community and is sometimes showcased around the world.
Syrian refugee children in Lebanon often need a large amount of psychological support while they recover from the effects of their past and adjust to life in a new and unfamiliar place. In the NGO AMURT’s Child-Friendly Spaces, children participate in a structured environment free from academic pressures. Each child receives personalized therapy and home-cooked meals.
Once the children transition into public school, the organization continues to provide therapy, helping the children find constructive ways to combat their feelings of loneliness, fear, aggression, and low-self esteem.
AMURT Youth programs include the Earn and Learn program, which engages young refugees in planting trees and gardens, and the Youth Media Club, in which refugees produce videos about their lives. These projects are designed to impact the refugees’ local communities, including their Lebanese neighbors.
In addition to NGO programs, Lebanon also benefited from international aid. In 2015, foreign donors contributed $61.3 million to Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) and its public schools, and another $260.7 million to UNICEF, which funds MEHE and several NGOs that assist in the region. Lebanon’s RACE program, a three-year venture whose benefactors included the European Union, USAID and the Department for International Development in the U.K., increased the number of refugees attending school from 22 percent in 2014 to 51 percent in 2015.
As these young refugees continue to seek shelter and new opportunities, it is imperative that NGOs and the Lebanese government coordinate their efforts and pool their resources in order to reach as many children as possible.
– Emilia Otte