BEIRUT: For Eid Tartoussi, the nonprofit organization Teach a Child has done much more than just put his three children through school. For the first time in years, the 30-year-old widower from impoverished Akkar now also has a steady paycheck that can go toward food and shelter for his family.
Teach a Child, which was established in 2011, gives financial assistance to Lebanon’s most deprived youths – such as Tartoussi’s children – to help them get an education. It even covers all associated expenses, including registration, transportation, books and stationery.
The organization said it supported the enrollment of 105 students for the 2011-12 academic year, 409 students in 2012-13 and 600 students this year. This coming academic year, it wants to cover the school expenses of some 800 students and is aiming for 1,000 students in 2015-16.
To achieve these goals, however, it needs funding. This coming Monday’s third-annual fundraiser, a 600-person gala dinner at Beirut’s St. Georges Yacht Club, is just one of the ways the group secures the money it needs to do its work.
Partnerships also play an important role.
Malek’s Bookshop, which has been supporting Teach a Child for three years, provides the stationary for students and for the first time, while Grand Stores will be donating school uniforms.
“Covering one student costs $400 a month on average,” Teach a Child President Zeina al-Khalil told The Daily Star, adding that the cost differed according to the area, grade and school.
“Our aim is to collect enough funds to secure the needs of 800 students,” she added.
The organization currently works with 29 schools, most of which are public, while some are semiprivate schools, i.e. funded by the government but not entirely free. The semiprivate options are particularly effective for illiterate pupils who can’t get into other schools.
Children covered by Teach a Child range between 3 and 15 years old. As 15 is the legal working age in Lebanon, the program ensures that they will have a minimum level of reading skills even if they leave at the first opportunity to get a job.
To locate the neediest families, Khalil said the organization worked with schools, municipalities and the Social Affairs Ministry. It also studies the records of students who recently dropped out of school in an effort to include them in the program.
“We have been an organization for three years, and now a lot of people have heard about us and our work, so they apply for the program,” Khalil also said.
“We work regardless of religion, area or performance. Every child deserves to enroll in school.”
Tartoussi’s children are just one such lucky case. Aged 4, 6 and 7, they have also been joined by Tartoussi’s 11 siblings, all of whom are under 15, with the result that all 14 youngsters have had their education financed for the last two years.
The children attend the Wadi al-Jamous public school in the northern district of Akkar, where the family lives.
The organization has also put money toward Tartoussi’s brother’s hospital fees when he had to undergo a major operation and even helped Tartoussi himself find a job selling coffee and tea – all because Tartoussi contacted Teach a Child after he took their number from a friend.
“My children used to not go to school because I couldn’t afford it. I used to be unemployed; I only took odd jobs every now and then.”
“Now my children are very happy that they’re learning.”
Asked whether he would prefer to have his children and siblings working and helping around the house, Tartoussi answered firmly that it was not an option at the moment.
While he doesn’t know whether his children will go to high school after they take their official exams, he is adamant that they should at least know how to read and write, something he was never taught.
“When someone can read and write, he can work in whatever field he wants,” he explained. “I prefer that they go to school. I didn’t and I suffered a lot in my life.”