Q: How does Tent Schools International define “displaced”?
A: We define displaced as those fleeing war, natural disaster or persecution related to religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality or ability. Some, not all, have refugee status within their host nations.
Q: Are the schools you establish actually in tents?
A: Often, they are! Many of the schools we launch with our partners are based out of sturdy tent structures, and in some cases large shipping containers. Our latest project in Lebanon is a mobile school on a cargo truck. We support whatever option is the most effective, efficient way to deliver education to children living in camps or other transitional areas. We do have partners who run schools out of more permanent structures, but all serve displaced children.
Q: Why can’t refugee students attend state schools in their host countries?
A: This question requires a thorough answer. There are often two different situations at play for the kids we serve, one for displaced children and another for children with refugee status.
In Jordan, Iraqi families fleeing ISIS activity in their home country do not arrive as refugees – they entered with their passports. Due to the Christian background of these families they are targeted by certain militant groups, but are technically not refugees of a full-blown war. Their children are unable to attend state schools because they are neither citizens of Jordan nor refugees and the public schools are overcrowded with both Jordanian and Syrian children who have refugee ID cards allowing them admittance since 2017. Iraqi students can attend private schools in Jordan, but they are expensive and families are typically unable to meet tuition and transportation requirements.
Syrian refugees in Jordan can attend state schools with refugee identification, but there are reasons to provide a different option, overcrowding being a major one. Secondly, at the time of this writing, 83% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps and there are no specific schools for refugees outside of those zones. Also, it’s a challenge for refugee children to blend in with children who have not experienced displacement; they have a greater frequency of post-trauma needs that are not addressed in state schools. On the practical side, the state schools are often a long distance from where families live, and transportation is a challenge. In winter children arrive home as darkness falls because they attend the afternoon session of a double-shift school. Parents fear for the kids’ safety in these situations.
Q: Do you send North American instructors to teach in refugee camps?
A: We do not send teachers to camps. Instead, we work through trusted partners to support Christian instructors from within a host country. However, we do offer trauma-informed guides for educators working with displaced children in the United States.
Q: Do you lead mission trips to refugee camps?
A: We do not lead mission teams to the camps. Instead, we offer our expertise along with that of our partners on Vision Trips – teams of supporters who travel to refugee camps to learn about the schools and form relationships with our partners and those from within the displaced populations we serve. We then encourage advocacy for the Tent Schools mission once supporters have returned. To learn more about how you can travel on a Vision Trip, contact us.
Q: Do you own or operate the schools?
A: No. We are involved with school projects that are owned and operated by in-country partners and staff who are from the host nation. This is done to increase cultural sensitivity and longevity of a project, and to maximize impact. We are a partner in this effort, not an owner of the project.
Q: How much does it cost to fund a tent school?
A: This varies according to region and the type of portable school being funded, but a good round figure is about $5,000 USD to launch a tent school.
Mobile schools on cargo trucks are more expensive to fund and maintain, but they are more versatile and longer-lasting than tent structures, plus they have multiple uses. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a mobile school could also be used to deliver urgently-needed food and medical supplies to school families.
Once a truck is purchased, running a mobile school costs about $1,000 a month for every 12 students served, with a maximum of 36 students per truck in three classrooms – one inside and two outside under tarps, with a bathroom, kitchenette and nutritious lunches provided.
Q: What is included in start-up funding for a tent school?
A: Three categories are involved in starting up a tent school: construction materials, school supplies and technology for the teacher and classroom. We require our in-country partners to have a sustainability plan in place including teacher salary support and monthly utilities before start-up funding is sent. Often we also commit to helping sustain the school month-to-month after startup. We are not always the only organization supporting the project.
Q: What services do you provide?
A: We provide two main areas of service to our partners:
First, we provide funding for school structures such as tents, shipping containers or cargo trucks, including both one-time and ongoing costs associated with launching a school within an established time limit.
Second, we provide technology for tent-school instructors and older students involved in career training, as well as for resettled families in the United States — parents involved in career training and children attending U.S. schools.
Q: Where do you currently work?
A: Most recently, Tent Schools International has worked with in-country partners on school projects in Lebanon with Syrian refugees, Jordan with Iraqi refugees, and Ukraine with refugees displaced by the 2022 Russian invasion. We are based in the United States and offer our services domestically as well, through technology for resettled families and for instructors working with resettled students.
Q: What curriculum is used in the schools you support?
A: We support a compassionate approach to curriculum that considers both urgent educational needs (i.e. learning to read and write) and a child’s past experiences that may affect her ability to learn.
The core subjects taught by in-country instructors in Lebanon, for example, are Arabic, Math, Reading and English. In an effort to meet the unique needs of children displaced by war and other disasters, we have worked with experts in the fields of mental health and disability to provide guides for educators such as “Beyond PTSD” and “Nature as Therapy”.
Q: Is Tent Schools International a Christian organization?
A: Yes. We are a faith-rooted organization that continues to be shaped by God’s love for all people, seen through the life of Jesus. We are not affiliated with a denomination and we welcome supporters of any or no faith background. Our goal is to serve as Jesus’ hands and feet for children experiencing displacement.
Q: Can a charter or public school receive a presentation from Tent Schools International about your work?
Technically yes, but due to the separation of church and state in the US we adjust our presentations to your student body, ensuring they are neutral from a religious perspective. However, we are transparent from the beginning that we are faith-rooted and work with Christian partners. If this makes raising funds to support this mission impossible for your public or charter school, we honor this healthy separation as it protects religious rights and freedom for all.
Q: Do you proselytize or promote an agenda with these schools?
A: Our aim is to welcome refugees by serving displaced children through education, as part of our call in Matthew 25:35 to welcome the stranger. We are a Christian organization working with in-country Christian partners, many of whom begin the school day with a devotional time based around God’s love for all people and the teachings of Jesus. Our partners do not conduct devotional times without permission from parents; when this permission does not exist, we continue to serve displaced communities through education in answer to Matthew 25, no strings attached.