BEIRUT: When British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher met a Syrian refugee father in Zahle recently, he said the man told him he needed three things: “Schoolbooks, schoolbooks, schoolbooks.”
On Thursday, Fletcher signed a memorandum of understanding with Education Minister Elias Bou Saab for the British government to provide 4 million pounds ($6.75 million) worth of schoolbooks to over 300,000 public school students across Lebanon, including Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
Fletcher told journalists at the Education Ministry that he was inspired by the story of the Syrian refugee father in Zahle, Abu Ali, and his son, Ali, who was in serious danger of falling behind in his education.
“I have a 7-year-old boy, so I know myself the expense parents face every term in providing schoolbooks, but I also know that when you are able to give those schoolbooks to a child, you are able to give them the wings to fly,” Fletcher said. “We as Britain want to invest in Lebanon’s future, in Ali’s future; we want to give Ali the wings to fly ... We want to give him the same chance that everyone else gets.”
Bou Saab welcomed the gift and responded to questions regarding past allegations by Syrian refugees that schools were forcing them to pay for donated schoolbooks.
“The crisis that hit us with the refugees was unexpected, and the ministry was not prepared,” he said. “Our policy [now] is different. We would like to be engaged; we would like to assume the responsibility, and part of this responsibility is to make sure that what is supposed to be delivered for free is delivered for free, and to make people accountable if any mistakes take place along the way.”
The minister added that the books would be available for the coming school year.