16 Jan 2014 07:00
Children running in pajamas and sandals along the frozen field, while their fathers and grandfathers are building the house of a Lebanese family for free, is the first sight you see as you enter the Syrian refugee settlement of Minyara, in Akkar. It is a vision of despair for the Syrian refugees, in a mountainous region where a 3-month-old Syrian baby died of cold in December 2013. But something else you see as you enter the settlement that these Syrians families from Qusayr rent every year from a Lebanese field-owner for $1000, you understand that there are kids are just having fun between two school lessons.
Inside two tents, warmed by a wood-burning stove, small tables and chairs constitute minimalist classrooms. Muhammad, a Syrian teacher whose right arm has been wounded by a bullet in Qusayr, teaches Arabic, mathematics and sciences through songs, games and books he made up, thanks to his 15 years of experience as a teacher in Syria. As for English and French, two volunteer teachers from the NGO Relief & Reconciliation for Syria come every morning to help Syrian children from 1st to 6th grade with these foreign languages, compulsory to enter the Lebanese school system.
Children are cold and traumatized by what they have gone through in Qusayr. After fleeing their city, they walked for 16 km under the bombs of the Syrian regime in summer 2013. Despite this, now education is their hope for a better future and their motivation is boundless. In 2013, 85,000 Syrian children were registered in Lebanese public schools and 100,000 in informal ones, according to Maha Shuayb, director of the Center for Lebanese Studies. But 97 percent of Syrian children drop out of the Lebanese education system. Illiteracy may then be the major issue for the 1.3 million of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as 50 percent of them are children.
Obstacles such as the language gap and the necessity for many Syrian families to rely on their children’s work to survive limit the access to education. In Minyara, Relief & Reconciliation helps children who try to enter Lebanese schools, but also those who decide to work, with vocational training such as electricity and couture. As Friedrich Bokern, director of the NGO, explains to the children gathered under the tent of the classroom: “Whatever you will decide to do, don’t be afraid. You are the future of Syria.”