Syrian refugees struggle amid virus, upheaval

For the last ten years, shipping container schools have been a staple of educational access in refugee camps. They are inexpensive and relatively easy to set up. Once they are wired for electricity and internet access, they just need chairs, tables, and children.
But sometimes, a temporary school is too permanent to keep up with the fluid lives of refugees.
Syrian refugees live with the fear that the owner of the land their camps stand upon will want to farm the land once again. Leases on the land can come to an abrupt end. They routinely worry that they must raze their humble homes and move on.
The families of our students in the fertile Bekaa Valley received the disheartening eviction notice in late August. The Syrians were told they had to go. That meant our shipping container school had no camp to serve.
Families scattered to new lodging in anything they could afford. Now they are living among the Lebanese where they are less isolated from the coronavirus and harder to reach with help. Overall, refugees outside of the camps become more vulnerable. It also becomes much harder to reach their children with education.
Yet, just as a church in not a building, a school is not its container. In this case, Salam, the school’s lead teacher, has reconvened the school for the students she has been able to locate. All told, 25 children are back in school in temporary quarters.
The upheaval made it clear to Joseph Milan, our Lebanese partner, that a new approach is needed immediately. The new approach is a mobile school that can travel to the children. We are now working with Milan to fund a school on wheels. When the project is completed, a Mitsubishi delivery truck will haul an equipped trailer to students and their teachers to support them with literacy and math skills. Milan hopes it will someday house vocational training for aspiring skilled tradesmen and periodic visiting medical care. In the event of another national emergency, it can be used for crisis response.
While it seems daunting to reach Syrian refugee children, we can extend hope and love. Education keeps alive the hope that this young generation of Syrians will rebuild their homeland and have a hand in creating a peaceful, prosperous future.

– The rural location of many refugee camps in Lebanon isolated them from the coronavirus for the first several months. Of late, a limited number of cases have popped up in and around refugee camps. Lebanese officials worry that the virus could spread like wildfire in the cramped living conditions.
– Nationally, Lebanon recently went through a two-week lockdown to stop skyrocketing cases.
– The massive ammonium nitrate explosion on Aug. 4 in Beirut’s port leveled swaths of the Christian section of the city, killing more than 200 people and temporarily leaving 300,000 people homeless.
– The blast worsened conditions in a nation that was already on the brink of financial collapse. Since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, the nation has been plagued by governmental incompetence and corruption among ruling elites who seem indifferent to the suffering of ordinary Lebonese citizens.
– Now at least half of the Lebanese population is living in poverty.
– The nation of 6.8 million people hosts one million Syrian refugees.
(Sources: United Nations, New York Times)