ALEY, Lebanon: While most schools were closed Friday to mark Teacher’s Day, the children of Syrian refugees in Aley, armed with their UNICEF notebooks and photocopied national textbooks, had a regular day in class.
The National Technical Institute, a vocational education institute in Aley, has opened its doors to accommodate more than 500 Syrian students, between the first and eighth grade. The school, launched at the end of last year, provides students with education based on the official Syrian curriculum.
“We realized that we have the space and saw the children sitting at home, in a bad environment,” said Hanadi Jawhari, whose husband owns the institute. “The facility serves as a technical institute in the morning and a school for Syrian children in the afternoon.”
Amid the steadily rising number of refugees, the school is quickly approaching its capacity, as it receives an average of 40 new students a week. With only 16 teachers available and classes growing in size, it is getting harder to manage the students. The school can accommodate roughly another 50 more students, after which it will have to start turning people away.
“K is for Key!” 6-year old Mahmoud screamed with a playful smile during his English class. Mona, a member of the all-Syrian teaching body, teaches English to this class of 30 first-graders and struggles to keep her students quiet.
“I enjoy benefiting these children,” she said. “But it takes so much work for them to respond to me,” Mona added, barely audible over the laughter of the children.
The two-story school receives the children of Syrian refugees from Aley and its surrounding areas, all free of charge. According to Ali Jawhari, the owner of the school, the facility is funded by Nora Jumblatt, the wife of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, and Salma Shehayeb, the wife of Aley MP Akram Shehayeb.
“Everything from the salaries of teachers, to desks and textbooks was provided by the two women, as well as the Aley Relief Committee, which was founded by Shehayeb,” Jawhari said.
While the children are positive and enthusiastic about their studies, the school hired a psychologist to help them adapt to their new environment.
“These children aren’t children anymore,” said Fariza Jahjah, a math teacher and a member of the school’s administration. “They come here scared of everything, and they’re responsible way beyond their ages.”
Another way to make children forget about their current difficulties is through a range of Saturday activities, which include theater, music, arts and crafts and sports.
The students do manage to find a sanctuary in their school, away from politics and sectarianism. Although they come from different religious and political backgrounds, even young children recognize what it means to share the same situation of hardship.
“They understand that at the end of the day, they all fled their country and are all here as refugees,” Jahjah added.
While NTI provides education to elementary and intermediate students, a need for secondary schools in the area remains urgent, with local schools unable to accommodate refugees.
Many students from grades nine and higher expressed a desire to enroll. However, while a teaching force is relatively easy to recruit, the school lacks the space and the funds to accommodate the students.
“There are approximately 300 students between ninth and 12th grade in the area,” said Jahjah. “They’re enough to open a whole school for.”