FORT ATKINSON, Wisconsin — On March 15, 2011, the Syrian Civil War began. By 2016, half of the Syrian population had to escape from their homeland. Lebanon accepted Syrian refugees into its borders. More Syrian children find refuge in Lebanon than in any other country. In fact, the U.N. Refugee Agency reported in 2014 that approximately 400,000 school-age Syrian refugee children were present in Lebanon. This number “is 25% higher than” that of young students native to Lebanon. This high number of refugees, the COVID-19 crisis and the 2020 explosion in Beirut have created immense economic difficulties for Lebanon as it seeks to provide safety, health, education and living space to its inhabitants. Its resilience and care for Syrian refugees are to be lauded.
Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Borgen Project interviewed an American teacher who taught English in both the public and private schools in Lebanon (due to safety concerns, she wishes to remain anonymous). The Lebanon-based teacher said, “Lebanon itself is a diverse country. It’s a country, itself, that’s experienced a lot of difficulties, so the fact that they have allowed refugees to come over the last… 10 years… I think is incredible. But, I also know that it’s difficult for the country itself when the country has already been struggling economically.”
She continued, “Even if there’s a lot of different cultures and religions within the country, the people themselves are very close and unified… When it comes to the refugees, I think because it’s such a small country, they’re struggling to find space for them.” One-eighth of Lebanon’s population are now Syrian refugees. In all, approximately 5.6 million refugees have escaped Syria, and 6.7 million remain displaced. Due to the large influx of refugee children in need of education, Lebanon has had to find ways to meet the needs of its ever-changing population effectively and creatively.
Education for Refugee Children in Lebanon
Because of the effects of the Civil War in Syria, 2.4 million children in Syria are not attending school. This causes gaps in education for children entering the Lebanese schooling system. Though many issues remain, Lebanon has sought to integrate Syrian refugees into its borders and educate the children despite the massive economic toll that this takes on the country. The anonymous source said, “I had children who had never been in school…” She recounted a story of a nine-year-old girl who “had never been to school.” The war made her leave after only two months. “So, at nine years old, she’s just learning her alphabet.”
The effects of the war on Syrian refugee children extend beyond the educational deficits; the children also suffer from the psychological harm that exposure to war brings. The anonymous source stated, “There was one woman who was studying to become a psychologist and she came to the school… trying to help and understand the students that were going through stuff. Certain noises could cause the students to have panic attacks or seizures… The sound of a balloon popping and the student… just fell to the ground… She had to just stop the class, and the rest of the day, she just had them draw.” Many schools in Lebanon have provided not only education to their growing population but also psychological support and understanding to the Syrian refugees that they serve.
Making a Difference
Several organizations continue to aid in the effort to educate Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) educates 6,500 Lebanese students from Syria across 65 different schools and provides secondary education to students in Lebanon. Through the Education in Emergencies (EiE) program, the psychological needs of students are met through the provision of counselors within the school system.
Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education is also actively involved in mitigating the education crisis for Syrian refugees. During the 2016-2017 school year, Lebanon’s Ministry of Education enrolled about 45,000 additional refugees in its public-school system, working closely with Back to School Campaigns and non-formal education programs that seek to integrate youth into certified education.
Individuals such as teachers, counselors and psychologists work long and emotionally strenuous workdays to ensure the futures of Syrian refugees. The anonymous teacher described her biggest success in Lebanon: “… that one little girl who was nine and who hadn’t gone to school… she was one of the top students by the time I was leaving.”
Despite the economic hardships that Lebanon has faced, its people are resilient and unified, offering access to safety and education to Syrian refugees searching for home and hope within its borders. The government’s activism along with organizations such as the United Nations and the many teachers and counselors advocating for the well-being of their students is evidence of their resilience and compassion.
– Hannah Brock