Lebanese schools trying to unite refugees with local children

Lebanon (MNN) — What happens when one out of every five people in your country is a refugee? According to Daniel Dieleman of Tent Schools International, the school system suffers.

Lebanon is hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, and many classrooms have more Syrian children than Lebanese children. The classes were so overwhelming for teachers that the government needed to find a solution. “They said ‘Okay, we’ll have a second shift, an afternoon shift with the Syrian refugee children using the same schools, the same desk, the same everything as the public schools,’” Dieleman said.

But it turns out that having two school days actually causes more problems than it fixes. Dieleman said teachers were more stressed out from spending so much time at school and there were problems translating curriculum materials from English, the language used for Lebanese education, to Arabic, which was easier for the Syrian children to understand. Overall, the Syrian children are receiving a lower quality education than their Lebanese companions.

Tent school in Lebanon (Photo Courtesy Tent Schools International)

By far the biggest issue is segregation and separation. By separating the classes based on ethnicity, schools create rifts between the children and add to the tension the nation is already feeling. The separation contributes to a belief many Lebanese citizens hold that there is no need to associate with refugees because they are “temporary guests”. In separate schools, each group refused to associate with the other because “they’re dirty,” Dieleman said. The rifts are even spreading to parents and other family members.

“There needs to be more integration in terms of the ways in which Syrian children integrate socially, integrate academically, and so on with the Lebanese population,” Dieleman said. “Otherwise there will be a separation and a growing resentment that Syrians need to get out of their country.”

As tension rises, it’s time for a solution.

“What they’re trying to do now is begin to develop a two-tiered system in the camps where the children could go in the morning before transitioning into the afternoon classes,” Dieleman said. The new program supplies schools much like the ones Tent Schools International already specializes in, providing education that prepares students for school and catches them up to the Lebanese curriculum.

(Photo courtesy of Tent Schools International)

It also means Tent Schools International can send in Christian teachers to help educate students and minister to their families. Dieleman said the teachers want to help their students “escape the chaos of their lives and focus on having a future.”

But that can be easier said than done. “Sometimes they face the resentment of people who just don’t want them there or think that they’re going to try and convert their children to Christianity,” Dieleman said. “These teachers are facing an enormous challenge working with children with a lot of PTSD and lots of other syndromes as well, but also trying to really do their part to be Jesus, be Christ to these kids.”

Keep these men and women in your prayers and consider supporting Tent Schools International in the months ahead, ”They’re our front line advocates and they’re the ones who really need our prayers.”