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BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON – K.* lives in Lebanon. He co-owns a Christian bookstore, but has spent much of his time in refugee camps since the beginning of the civil war in neighboring Syria. Most Syrians, who are Muslim, have been both surprised and encouraged by his presence, and that of Christians like him, within their camps. “Where are our Muslim friends?” they have asked him. “Why are Christians helping us?”
The Syrian civil war began in 2011, causing the displacement of millions of people, many of whom are taking shelter as refugees in neighboring Lebanon. K., a Lebanese national and co-owner of a Christian bookshop in Lebanon, says his work with the Syrian people began at the start of the war, when he delivered food packages and medical aid to the camps as a volunteer. He has also worked as a translator for mission groups traveling into the camps, using his skills in Arabic, Armenian, and English.
Through his camp work, K. has spent extensive time visiting families, listening to their stories, encouraging them, and telling them about his hope in Jesus, despite differing religious and ethnic backgrounds. “The number one un-met need in the camps is always food, water and shelter,” K. said. “It’s the survival mode of any refugee, anywhere in the world.”
Great effort by aid organizations, churches and missions in Lebanon and abroad have gone toward meeting these basic needs. But another priority that has been identified specifically by parents is education. Half of refugees in Lebanon are children, and the public schools there are overwhelmed by the influx of refugee families. As a result, most of their children are denied the chance to attend school. To pass the time, kids play with cans or handmade balls, and many watch television for most of the day at a more established neighbor’s house.
“The need for education is un-met in most of the camps,” K. said. “A few camps have schools set up by the United Nations, and there are only three Christian schools established by [mission groups]. Hundreds of camps remain without any educational opportunities for the children, leaving these kids with little hope to build even a modest future for themselves.”
Along with academic growth, refugee families are open to a new kind of spiritual growth. They are often surprised by the presence of Christians in the camps, asking K., “Where are our Muslim friends? Why are Christians helping us?”
Most camps have designated leaders, and an average range of 15 to 100 families per camp often hail from the same city in Syria. K. and his friends follow a model of first establishing trust with a leader by helping that camp’s families with access to basics like food and clothing.
When K.’s group offers the possibility of a school, “you can see their eyes glittering,” K. said. “This is something they dream of, of course, [and they ask], ‘Why would you do such a thing for us? Thank you.’… They realize we have no agenda, we are just blessing them and showing them the love of God.”
As refugee parents know, a child’s options will expand significantly once she has had access to schooling, and as she enters adulthood. For one, she may be able to find employment outside the camps.
“Families hope to immigrate to European or other developed countries where they would find a future for their children,” K. said. “Some, and this is a minority, wish they can go back home, and if they have not lost their houses because of war, start over with a new life.”
Alongside Lebanese nationals like K., and with supporters like you, Tent Schools International will begin establishing schools in the Syrian refugee camps of Lebanon.