Children at one of the Syrian refugee settlements
Save the Children is in Bekaa, Lebanon working with children to provide them with opportunities to continue learning. The majority of the children we work with are Syrian refugees who have overcome tremendous challenges and continue to face stigma, severe poverty, and now a pandemic. Thanks to your support, children – many who are out of school – have gained access they would not otherwise have had to books and reading activities.
More than eight years of civil war has displaced millions of Syrians across the Middle East and beyond. Approximately 1-1.5 million Syrians have sought protection in Lebanon, and account for one out of every four residents — making the country host to the largest per capita population of refugees in the world. About half of all registered Syrian refugees living in Lebanon are children. Most refugees have settled near the Syrian border in the impoverished areas of the Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon, leaving displaced children with acute needs for basic services, including access to education. Sadly in Lebanon, more than half of all refugee children, ages 3-18, are not in school – many of whom have never attended school or have had their education interrupted for months, if not years.
Mobile Book Library for Syrian Children in Lebanon
Despite efforts by the Lebanese government to broaden access to the public education system by holding double shifts – two shifts of students attending class each day to compensate for over-enrollment – the government lacks the capacity to support enrollment of all school-age refugee children. However, thanks to your generosity, a new mobile library van has been engaging children on reading and fun recreational activities.
From May 2019 until March 2020, the mobile library visited informal settlements in Bekaa and Arsal, impoverished border towns where many Syrian families live. With every stop, the library brought books and play materials – such as crayons, coloring books and LEGOs – to nourish young minds and instill a life-long love of reading, and to provide an opportunity to creatively express themselves. The mobile library also offered a child-friendly space where children received social and emotional support to help them cope with the traumatic experiences some have encountered due to displacement. The child-friendly space is set up in coordination with the “Chawich” (i.e., the person who is in charge of the informal tented settlements), in order to identify the safest spot to place the portable tent, furnished with carpet and colorful chairs. After furnishing the tent, we distributed play materials and set up a sound system to play music for children while they were drawing, coloring, or with which to sing along. By the end of the visit, refreshments were distributed to all the children. When the children told us about other camps/locations where children had no educational support, we updated our visit schedule to include those locations. Between May 23, 2019 and March 6, 2020, we conducted 204 community visits to informal settlements in Bekaa and Arsal, reaching 3,078 vulnerable children (1,459 girls, 1,619 boys) in impoverished border towns where many Syrians live.
During our last visit to Al Marj camp, an 11-year-old child said, “I created a game and I called it ‘mobile library,’ where I gather all my relatives outside and read for them a story as we always do during our activity with you, and this is really awesome.” Another child said, “I never thought that stories could be that joyful.”
Both parents and children really appreciated the support they received – as one parent in Arsal settlement explained: “My children get ready at 6:00 am on the day that the mobile library visits our camp. This is the first time I see this happiness and excitement in their eyes.” Thank you!
During this project we also raised awareness among caregivers regarding available services in Bekaa. We recommended where to seek support and which service provider to contact for access to health, and livelihoods assistance or attain clean water, and sanitation for their family. Specifically for education, we conducted awareness sessions for the out-of-school children and their families, guiding them to the programs available in their areas based on the age range of the children and explaining how they can enroll their children in these programs. In some cases, lists of children were shared with NGOs in specific locations to contact children and enroll them in other programs. During the mobile library activities, child protection concerns were also identified and referred to Save the Children protection teams, who followed up on the cases or referred them to other NGOs as necessary.
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the implementation of our activities; however we know that as soon as it is safe to do so, continuing with the mobile library activities will be crucial in Bekaa, given that children will have had little to no educational engagement for several months. Therefore, beginning in the summer and throughout the scholastic year 2020-2021, we will prioritize engaging children through the mobile library as one way to target the huge learning gap that has resulted, as well as to prime children to be ready to return to traditional learning. We also aim to provide school-age children with basic literacy and numeracy learning sessions in August and September to help children catch-up.
Thank you so much for your support that allows projects like these to help vulnerable children!