“In emergency contexts, children regularly struggle with the psychological trauma of displacement, war and loss” (Ehntholt & Yule, 2006)
The war in Syria has forced millions of people to migrate to neighbouring countries and has been stretching services and public infrastructure in the region. The Lebanese government does not have the capacity to provide education for this new population, which now represents almost one third of the total Lebanese population.
For this reason, creating an adequate, stimulating and stable learning environment is essential for supporting and promoting positive childhood development.
Together, Jusoor and Sawa for Development Aid responded to the lack of educational opportunities for the refugee population by building the Jarahieh School; a temporary tented school which provides education to approximately 320 children, aged 5-14, per year. The school was established in 2014 and is located in the Jarahieh informal tented settlement. The school was built using a wooden structure and is covered in fabric – similar to those provided by UNHCR for shelters.
Currently, Jusoor is teaching the children: Arabic literacy; English; Maths; Science; Art; Sports. The goal is to prepare these children to successfully enroll in the Lebanese public school system – and this has now been achieved for over 400 children.
Despite these huge achievements, the current school structure needs to be improved to enhance the educational environment and the quality of life for these children and their families. The school should not only be a place to learn skills, but also a psychological and emotional safe haven – a place for children to be happy. At the moment, the ‘tent school’ has very poor lighting, issues with the temperature and sound levels, and a lack of any recreational space. The school also incurs unnecessary costs annually due to issues with ongoing maintenance.
The redevelopment of the Jarahieh School will create a space of safety – where children can grow and develop confidence. This project will also help to cultivate a community of cohesion within the Syrian refugee camp itself and within the Lebanese society more broadly.
Save the Children Italy constructed a pavilion for the 2015 Expo in Milan, but wanted the structure to be used afterwards for a charitable purpose. They agreed to donate the materials used for the pavilion to improve the existing structure of the Jarahieh School.
Last year, CatalyticAction engaged with the community and the children of the Jarahieh School in order to begin a participatory design process. The participatory exercises focused on understanding the children’s, teachers’ and parents’ needs and desires – also increasing their sense of ownership over the project. Since this point, together we have begun to work alongside ARUP International, who are providing their engineering services pro-bono, in order to create a new safe space for these children to learn. We have taken on board the needs and desires of the beneficiaries and stakeholders, to create a design that will: lower the schools running costs; extend the range of activities they can provide; keep the warm in winter and cool through the summer; allow light into the classrooms; and prevent noise from travelling.
Construction began in the summer of 2016. The CatalyticAction team hired workers from both the settlement and from the surrounding Lebanese towns, providing training and a salary for those willing to work, and helping to improve the social cohesion between the two communities.
Labouring alongside both Syrian and Lebanese workers for weeks allowed the CatalyticAction team to build close and trusting relationships. This trust made it easier to introduce alternative building strategies that may have otherwise been viewed sceptically by locals.
For example, the team sourced sheep's wool from local farms to insulate the walls of the school. Natural wool acts as an excellent sound buffer between classrooms and is an extremely efficient thermal barrier. It is also completely sustainable and requires far less energy to produce than the equivalent human-made product. They hired local farmers to clean and prepare the wool for use, once again contributing to the local economy.
The opportunity to learn new construction skills was particularly appealing to Syrian youths living in the settlement, who could use the specialist training acquired on the school site to find future employment. Working next to international volunteers who are close to them in age but different in culture contributed to the energy and camaraderie on the site.
The students that helped to shape the conceptual design had the opportunity to watch the school they imagined take form over weeks. These children are the future of their country - the ones who will one day return to Syria to rebuild the cities and towns destroyed by the war.
The new Jarahieh School provides bright, naturally lit classrooms, dedicated recreation spaces and a playful, stimulating environment for hundreds of young people who are forced to endure life in the harsh conditions of the refugee camp. But beyond the benefits of having a new school, these children will be equipped with the hope and the knowledge they need to one day create change that improves their lives, as well as the lives of others.
Jusoor is an NGO of Syrian expatriates supporting the country’s development and helping Syrian youth realize their potential through programs in the fields of education, career development, and global community engagement.
Originally named Sawa4Syria, the not-for-profit organisation was founded as a reaction to the dire gap in fulfilling the needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.