In honor of World Refugee Day today, Joy Toose — social media manager for World Vision Australia — writes from Lebanon about the need for education among refugees and World Vision’s work in Lebanon that is making possible an education for refugee children.
* * *
When I ask children what their lives here are like compared to life in Syria, I expect complaints. They’re often living in a tent or a small room, their parents are usually stressed and often struggling to provide basics like water, food, and healthcare. And they’ve left their toys, friends, and cousins behind.
So I’m always surprised by the answers. Falak, 8, told me, “We don’t hear the missiles and gunfire anymore. We were very frightened there.” Her brother Abdullah said, “We feel safe here.” With two years of fighting in Syria, some of the younger children can’t remember a peaceful life. Even when I’m talking to older children, and I clarify, “What about before the fighting?” It takes a while for them to think back to the good things.
When they do, it can be like talking to a different child. They talk more passionately and freely when describing the things they miss. I’ve heard kids reminisce about fun things like riding bikes and playing football, as well as things I take for granted like showers and proper meals. But one answer that I hear again and again from older children is school. They miss their school, their friends, and their teachers.
The situation is so dire and the settlements look so temporary to me that it’s easy to overlook the importance of education, to forget that some of these children have already been here for two years, and that there is no date for their return. The basics like water, food, and shelter are urgent and essential to help them survive, but education provides a chance for them to grow.
I worry that without it, they will be a forgotten generation, surviving and waiting out the war. Their whole life paused, except that they are still getting older. Some of them will be adults before this conflict is over.
When I think about this, I am haunted by the children I've met. I see Mahamed and Ahmed, whose gentle seriousness made them seem older than they were. I see the friendly, hopeful Falak and Abdullah, and so many others. Of everything I’ve seen and heard over the past month, the future of these children is what worries me the most. I think about it before I go to sleep, when I wake up, and on the car trips to and from the refugee settlements where World Vision works.
Yesterday, a mother named Safaa echoed my thoughts: “I don’t care about where we live or what we eat — I want school for my children.” It was the first thing she said after greeting me. I hadn’t even gotten to my questions.
Safaa continued, a step further than my thoughts had managed. “This is the next generation. If they are not educated, how will anything change?”
I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe you had. Caught up in the individual stories of the children I met, I’d completely missed the big picture.
These children have experienced so much violence and been separated from huge parts of their support networks. I see education as a chance to move on — to return normalcy to their lives, to give them tools to express their experiences, and to ensure that they have the opportunities that will enable them to become successful adults. Without education, how will they be equipped to build a future where children feel safe, where they don’t fear the sounds of gunfire and missiles?
World Vision’s work in education here is exciting, because it has the potential to make such a huge difference to children and to the future of Syria. The program is called an accelerated learning program, and it works with children for three months to prepare them to enroll in a local Lebanese school. With some help, these children have a chance at an education and the opportunities that come with it.
It was a pleasure to visit the small prefabricated classrooms where sessions in Arabic, English, and maths were being taught. The children greeted us and shared what they had learned, and I felt hopeful and grateful.
I still worry though. As up to 10,000 refugees arrive in Lebanon every week, I wonder where continued funding will come from to support the accelerated learning programs — when water, shelter, and food pose such an urgent need. And if we don’t help these children go to school, what happens to Ahmad, Mahamed, Falak, and Abdullah? If they are not educated, how will anything change?
Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as support initiatives like the accelerated learning program, helping refugee children continue their education away from home.
Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.
Read our 6-part blog series about the Syrian Refugee Crisis here.