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The needs are both monumental and profoundly simple for the organizations serving Syrian refugees in central Lebanon.
In Joseph Milan’s case, it comes down to a heater.
The gregarious Lebanese pastor runs a language school in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon near the Syrian border. While the coast of Lebanon experiences warm Mediterranean winters, the Bekaa Valley sees high temps around 50 degrees from December through February. It gets chilly in the unheated shipping container that is his school.
To visualize the school, imagine a trailer from a semi-truck. Put tables, chairs, and dividers inside. Add a whiteboard. Hang television screens for students to view lessons accessed online.
The school is located in a refugee camp that was set up as temporary shelter on farmland in the fertile Bekaa Valley. The temporary camp of tents and shipping containers were set up five to eight years ago, and they are becoming somewhat established communities as the Syrian civil war drags on.
Border crossings between Lebanon and Syria have re-opened. Yet Syrians tell Joseph they are afraid to go back home.
“They are too traumatized from the civil war,” he said. “They are scared because of what they saw and what happened to them. They have nothing to return to. There is no work and their homes were destroyed.”
Roughly 350,000 Syrians remain in the Bekaa Valley.
Lebanon has been stretched to accommodate the influx of refugees. The nation of 4.5 million people is home to more than 900,000 Syrian refugees plus refugees from Iraq and Palestian (Source: UNHCR). Essentially, one in six people living in Lebanon is a refugee.
Consider the challenges:
The Lebanese school system couldn’t absorb roughly 500,000 Syrian children who have missed years of education.
Limited private school spaces are too costly.
Even if children gain a spot in a Lebanese school, families cannot afford transportation to get their children to school. The camps are on farmland, not in cities and villages where schools would be within walking distance.
Many children must work to help support their families or look after younger siblings while their parents work. As a result, few children can attend school all day, every day.
Last, several adolescent females end all formal school when they reach their teens because of marriage.
In this context, Joseph created an educational opportunity that removed the roadblocks. He put his school in the camp. He runs his school for four hours, and students can come and go as needed.
To help them learn when the school is not open, he helps them download the materials on their smartphones. When funds allow, he gives smartphones to students in need.
His curriculum focuses on language instruction because the lessons allow students to jump in at any skill level and work at their own pace.
And, of course, he welcomes them with a loving heart, good humor, and food.
“When families see their children are learning and happy, they accept our help,” Milan said.