SIDON, Lebanon: A center in Sidon’s village of Villat is aiming to combat an increase in the number of school dropouts by implementing a program that bridges the education gap among Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese children.
The Safe Spaces School, inaugurated Tuesday in Villat, which is home to predominantly limited-income Lebanese families and Syrian and Palestinian refugees, will seek to provide educational and psychosocial support to 300 children who have been affected by the Syrian war and resultant refugee crisis.
The area’s vulnerable population is what made it the ideal location to host the new center near Mieh w Mieh, Mayor Rafaat Bousaba said at the inauguration event.
The center, operated by the Islamic Welfare Association with assistance from U.S NGO Safe Spaces and the Norwegian Refugee Council, follows a program that allows students who have dropped out of Lebanon’s education system to reintegrate.
The center consists of two stories with 14 classrooms and will welcome Syrian students in morning shifts and Palestinian and Lebanese students in evening shifts for the 2018-19 academic year.
“The mornings will target [two groups of] Syrian students,” Ghassan Hankeer, ISWA’s public relations manager, told The Daily Star. “The first group is made up of students who have dropped out over two years ago, and will receive educational support until they can be transferred to an official school if they pass the [entrance] exam.”
Before they sit for the exams, the students, a group of 100 Syrian refugees ranging from 8-14 years old, will be taught according to the Basic Literacy and Numeracy program, which was tailored by NGO War Child to be applied to refugees and Lebanese children left out of the Lebanese education system.
“A second group of Syrian students who are currently enrolled in schools but are facing learning difficulties will also join the morning shifts for a [separate] specialized program,” Hankeer added. The group will include 100 Syrian students who hadn’t dropped out but were facing learning difficulties.
The night shifts will offer remedial education and target a group of 100 students, including both Lebanese and Palestinian children, in the first through the sixth grades.
“There is a whole generation of children growing up in this crisis who have missed up to eight years of access to school,” Rev. Rachel Griffin Baughman, who is heading the Safe Spaces delegation, said in a speech at the event.
“Upon learning of [their] stories, we were moved to form a nonprofit called Safe Spaces to create spaces for children to learn and grow,” Baughman added, recalling stories of children she met in Lebanon who were struggling to pursue education.
“Young refugees need education, mental health support and are earnestly looking for meaning and purpose. For this reason, we have found Lebanon to be a place of synergy for the work of our new nonprofit,” Baughman added.
According to Lebanon’s Crisis Response Plan 2017-20, there are over 450,000 vulnerable school-age Lebanese children in need of educational assistance, in addition to over 586,000 Syrian and 55,000 Palestinian children.