Philli and Nico – key members of the Help Refugees team – recently visited Lebanon and spent some time working with SB Overseas in their women and children’s centre for refugees near Shatila, Beirut. Philli wrote this update from their visit.
During our time with the amazing SB Overseas in Lebanon last week, learning about what they do and getting to know the people they work with, we had the opportunity to volunteer within their bright, airy, Women and Children’s centre. The centre is located very close to Shatila, the biggest refugee camp in Beirut, home to 75,000 people. This proximity is absolutely vital because it means children can walk there on their own, no one has to pay for transport and there is little danger of coming across any army officers, requesting to see documents on the way. There is a pleasant buzz of happy energetic voices throughout the centre. For the children it is catch-up school. The Syrian curriculum is different from the Lebanese one so even kids lucky enough not to have missed any school have things to catch-up on before having a chance to enter into the Lebanese public school system. In reality, due to the extent and duration of the civil war in Syria and the lack of schools to cater for the sheer number of displaced children, many have missed a few years of education.
That education is considered a basic human right and the reasons for this is absolutely evident from spending 5 minutes sitting in a classroom in this school in Beirut. They are bright, enthusiastic, engaged and so excited to be there, learning and laughing. Every so often you remember the things that these children have seen and experienced, imagine what they might have lost and the conditions in which they are now living, as refugees. This is not the same phenomenon we see elsewhere, namely in Europe, because most have been there for a number of years already. They are not in transit. This is life for the foreseeable future.
60% of the children succeed in passing their exams and entering into the Lebanese system after one 6 month stint at the school. This represents the beginning of what one can only hope will be their integration into Lebanese society. Their places are then given up to the next children on the long waiting list and those who have not succeeded enter into another programme (at the same centre). No one is forgotten. Everyone is nurtured.
As well as classes throughout the week there are activities available at the weekend, so the centre provides a haven seven days a week for whoever would like to attend. On Sunday we brought all the essentials for pasta necklace making including farm animal pasta, lots of glitter, sticky butterflies and rainbow paints. It was incredible to be there that day, sharing the moment of creativity, concentration, collaboration and pride in their work, on the big shady terrace of the centre.
The other key area the centre works within is providing vocational training courses and psychological support for female refugees. There are courses in embroidery, dress-making, literacy, jewellery-making and hair dressing. These programmes aim to provide the women who attend them with a way to make a living for themselves. Many have lost their husbands and other family members, and are not only suffering from extreme levels of psychological trauma but also very much need to find a way to make money to pay their rent and feed their children. We ran a card-making workshop with a group of 30 women who produced the most beautiful pieces. We asked our host, Louma, the founder of SB Overseas, to translate the Arabic script on each card and every one of the messages contained the word hope. The centre offers exactly this to every person who walks through the door. It provides a community, a place to cry, a place to learn, a place of friendship, a place to feel empowered and place to find much-needed hope.
All of the teachers are refugees themselves so the school also provides job opportunities for a number of skilled, displaced people who would not have been able to attain this type of position in the Lebanese school system. One thing they do need support with is English teachers. There is a curriculum to follow, the classes are small and there will always be an Arabic speaker in the room (useful for things like loo requests and occasional overexcitement!) Learning through play and self-expression through arts are also key at the centre.
We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.
Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!