Above and Beyond: The SKILD Team’s Efforts to Serve Refugee Communities

Ashley al-Saliby

March 4, 2016

BEIRUT: The SKILD Center offices buzzed with activity in the final weeks before assessment day, which would be the culmination of several months of preparation. The team worked hard, creating a customized assessment document, a thick booklet carefully printed and bound in the office. Five hundred individual student assessments were compiled with intentionality, the fruit of a compassionate new vision embraced by the already-busy SKILD team.

Above and Beyond: The SKILD Team's Efforts to Serve Refugee Communities

A few members of the SKILD team display the assessment booklets they worked hard to create. (Photo: Hiba al-Jamal)

The staff of the Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences (SKILD) have gained a reputation for their unprecedented efforts in Lebanon over the past few years. In Lebanon’s academically rigorous, competitive climate, the team is committed to advocating for inclusive school polices, equipping parents and teachers to understand and support children who present a spectrum of learning differences and special needs. The SKILD team also documents the extent of the need in public and private schools across Lebanon, and offers professional therapy to kids and adults at the SKILD Center in Mansourieh (a suburb of Beirut). But in the fall of 2015, the SKILD team recognized a burgeoning need they knew they couldn’t ignore.

The presence of 417,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon between the ages of 3 and 14 has created a significant strain on the Lebanese Ministry of Education, and more than 200,000 school-age refugee children are still without access to education despite Lebanon’s increasing efforts.[1] MEBO’s partner in Lebanon, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) has been part of the solution, funding an alternative education project in Eastern Lebanon through its Relief and Community Development arm. This resourceful and compassionate team currently serves 300 Syrian children each day. The educational opportunities offered to these children is valuable and hope-giving, but SKILD Director Hiba al-Jamal recognized that many children with learning differences were likely slipping through the cracks, along with many other refugee children with special needs in Lebanon.

And so she called her team to action. They began researching the academic standards of the Syrian educational system so that refugee children could be assessed accurately. This January, the SKILD team drove three hours to offer the first preliminary assessment at the educational project, with plans to follow up with more specific tests based on the results of the preliminary ones.

The SKILD team spent a Saturday assessing Syrian refugee children at the alternative education project in East Lebanon. (Photo: Hiba al-Jamal)

The SKILD team spent a Saturday assessing Syrian refugee children at the alternative education project in East Lebanon. (Photo: Hiba al-Jamal)

And this means that in the midst of continuing sorrow, sadness and upheaval, there is hope. If you’re a 10 year old refugee girl who’s been struggling in school, with no explanation available to your parents and teachers, all of this preparation and intentionality and assessing means that someone cares enough not to let you slip through the cracks. It means that there are people, multiple groups of people, who think you are significant and want to offer their time and professional expertise to help you begin to thrive.

Rita Bou Chebel, the Senior Special Education Consultant at the SKILD Center, shared one of the team’s motivations for serving refugee children. “We want to prepare them to go back to Syria and enter the school system, not be on the streets,” she said. She also emphasized that “the spirit of SKILD is amazing. Hiba (SKILD Director) motivates us a lot.” When preparing to begin the refugee assessment project, she told the team, “God gave us the tools to help. We have to do something.” 

To learn more about the resources the SKILD Center develops and employs and its team of professional educators and therapists, and to discover meaningful partnership models through prayer, advocacy, financial contributions, or an exploratory vision trip*, please click here.

* Lebanon is a trilingual country (Arabic, English, French), and the SKILD Center often benefits from qualified Westerners who visit with humble, teachable hearts and these professional skills: Psychologists, ABA therapists, Clinical Psychologists, Speech Therapists, and Occupational Therapists. Opportunities for partnership are available throughout the academic year, as well as during the summer break. To learn more about what’s needed and if you or a colleague are a good fit, please contact us.

[1] UNHCR. “200,000 Syrian Refugee Children to Get Free Schooling in Lebanon.” (http://www.unhcr.org/560e96b56.html) Retrieved February 22, 2016.

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