A mountain run in service of knowledge

BEIRUT: Twelve-year-old Jonathan smiles broadly as he explains his idea for a televised spelling bee to raise money and awareness for Myschoolpulse. His favorite subject is chemistry, he explains, but he loves spelling too.

The lively boy sits beside his teacher on the eighth floor of a Beirut hospital, enjoying the morning sunshine as the duo makes its way through a science textbook in the downtime between Jonathan’s cancer treatments.

NGO Myschoolpulse was founded in 2010 by Mireille Nassif to honor the memory of her son Paul Yared, who was diagnosed with bone cancer in the winter of 2008. A keen student, he continued his studies throughout his time in hospital, up until his death in the summer of 2009. Today, Myschoolpulse helps children with cancer and other chronic diseases to keep up with their studies, so that the 75 percent of them who return to school after successfully receiving treatment will not find themselves left behind.

Over the past four years, the charity has helped school 217 children, and boasts full time teaching staff in six hospitals in Beirut and Byblos. As well as providing one-on-one lessons to children during their time in hospital, the NGO provides home schooling and scholarships and even helps pay for the education of siblings of hospitalized children whose parents are struggling to cope with the financial burden of treatment.

Next month marks one of the most important events in Myschoolpulse’s calendar, the annual Pulse 5K, a mini-marathon held each August in Faqra. “The main fundraising event for Myschoolpulse is the Pulse 5K marathon,” explains community and operational supervisor Carol Ghazal, “which offers the possibility to run 5 kilometers or walk 5 kilometers, and to run or walk 1 kilometer with mum, for those younger children.”

This year’s event takes place on Aug. 3 at the Faqra Club in Kfar Debian, where participants can enjoy the fresh air and stunning views that come with running at an altitude of 1,700 meters. Sponsored by companies including Bank Audi, whose chairman offered the NGO use of the club for the day, the event is organized with the logistical support of the Beirut Marathon Association.

Last year over 1700 people took part in the Pulse 5K, Ghazal says, and now organizers are hoping to attract around 2000. “They’re people from all over the place,” she explains. “We have participants who are marathon lovers. They come from abroad to participate – they are professional runners. We have people from Faqra – we have people from all over the place who wait for this event, love it.

“It was Mireille Nassif’s idea,” she continues, “because she’s an outdoor person, a sports person, and her son also enjoyed outdoor activities. So she prefers to raise funds through these means rather than organizing seated dinners in hotels and things. She thought it was more of a joyful activity, an outdoors family gathering.”

Visiting the children’s oncology ward of one of the Beirut hospitals where Myschoolpulse’s teachers are working provides immediate insight into the effect that charity’s program has, not only on children’s education, but on their states of mind.

The friendly Jonathan, whose laugh frequently fills the spacious hallway where he sits beside his teacher, refused to take lessons at first, his mother says. “He was depressed and he didn’t see the point in studying,” she recalls. “But once he started taking an interest in his lessons he rediscovered a sense of hope.”

In the next room, Ali rummages through a carrier bag at the foot of his bed, ignoring the needle feeding clear fluid into his thin wrist as he searches for his favorite coloring book, in which he has painstakingly decorated a picture of Peter Pan in vibrant rainbow shades.

In a private room nearby, a haggard-looking Iraqi man keeps vigil at his son’s bedside. The boy has recently arrived in Beirut for treatment, one of an increasing number of Syrian and Iraqi children that Myschoolpulse is providing with lessons, Ghazal says. His father has told the organization’s teacher that his son is too sick to take lessons, but when Ghazal comes to meet the family, calmly chatting to the father before coaxing the boy into talking about the subjects he studied back home, he soon changes his mind. A teacher will be in to visit him as soon as she’s finished with her lesson, Ghazal promises as she leaves, and the child need only spend time with her if he decides he wants to. Having witnessed Jonathan’s enjoyment of his science lesson, it seems certain he will.

To find out more please visit Runners who want to compete in the timed race for a selection of prizes should register online before July 27.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2014, on page 2.




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