Back to school: Syrian children in Bekaa refugees camps resume learning at UNESCO schools
At 7:30 in the morning, as the sun rises over the Bekaa Valley with some cold breeze, Ahmad rushes to the school bus that picks his friends and him up to the UNESCO school, which is not far away from the camps. Ahmad and his family left Syria and moved to Lebanon in 2013. Like many of his peers displaced by the war, he stopped attending school for several years. When the UNESCO Saadnayel Middle School opened in 2019, Ahmad enrolled in grade 6, and he is in grade 8 now. “I am one of the excellent students in my class.” He says it proudly.
Like Ahmad, thousands of refugee children and youth are still in high need for education assistance after ten years of the Syria crisis. As at March 2021, there are 687,611 Syrian refugee children aged three to eighteen in Lebanon who need access to education services; only 30.68% of them are enrolled in formal education in the 2020-21 school year.
“Saving one generation through education.” With the generous support of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Centre (KSRelief) and the Kuwait Foundation for Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), and in partnership with local NGO Kayany Foundation, UNESCO is supporting the operation of three middle schools in Bekaa, including one school specifically for girls, and providing free quality education to Syrian and Palestinian refugee students.
The opportunity to return to study is more than precious for many children in the UNESCO schools. “During the Syrian war, we had a lot of hard times and sad moments. One of the worst was that I couldn’t go to school and stopped my education for almost five years. It was a very bad experience because I love to go to school and learn new things.” shared by Asma, a fourteen-year-old girl returning to education and attending class regularly at the UNESCO school now.
Due to prolonged absence from school, Asma found it hesitant and difficult to restart study. “I almost forgot what I knew and could barely remember the letters”, she continued shyly, “I was older than my classmates and I missed a lot from the curriculum, it pushed me back.” Children of different ages sitting in one classroom is a common scene as they’ve spent different years out of school and lost learning to a certain extent. However, with the unwavering support and love from teachers in the UNESCO schools, students are able to return to the normal track of learning regardless of age difference. “I thank my lovely teachers, they have given me advice that I will never forget ‘Education has no age, if there is a will to learn then there is a way. I learned English and how to use the computer, and started to realize how smart I am only in a year.” Asma tells us with a big smile.
For the kids, school is not only a place for learning but also a safe space where they share laughter and happiness, and grow up with their friends. At the UNESCO Mekseh Middle School, the schoolyard is suddenly filled with children's noise when the bell hits - it is time for a lunch break. Snacks and meals are distributed to students. "I love the delicious sandwiches made by the school's cook," declared Yehya. He attends the school with his two sisters. “I have lots of friends, we learn and play together, and we all have high grades,” he winks and continues, “I love my school because it’s my happy place. It provides me with almost everything I need (for study), such as books, stationeries, uniform, and so on…”
Before the school bus brings them home, students are chatting, playing and talking about their dreams on the playground. Rania, a girl in grade four, starts, “I want to become a teacher one day and share my knowledge with my students.” Ahmad continues, “I wish in the near future I could return to my country Syria and help to rebuild it.”
Displacement, poverty, discrimination, deprivation of education, refugee children still face multiple challenges not only in learning but also in daily life. However, with the support of KSRelief, KFAS, Kayany Foundation, and UNESCO, their education journey will continue. And by their relentless efforts and the power of education, their dreams will come true one day.
Want to know more about how the students spend their day in the UNESCO schools? Click here to visit the schools virtually.
For more information on this project, please see here.