Breaking New Ground to Serve Children in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Even in our modern world, there are children tucked away from sight without access to an education, deprived of the right to enter a school environment. This is always the fruit of some injustice they are powerless to free themselves from. Some are enslaved to work in the unrelenting mud and sweat of brick factories in India. Others are besieged with their families by very real dangers in cities like Aleppo, Syria, Taiz, Yemen, or Juba, South Sudan, unable to venture out of their homes to go to school due to the relentlessness of war around them. For countless others, their lack of citizenship as one of the many kept from any legal or official belonging in the country in which they were born and are growing up (a tragedy and human rights violation called “statelessness”), means that they have never been allowed access to a school environment or education.

Breaking New Ground to Serve Children in Lebanon

Preparation continues at the site of the new academy on LSESD’s campus. (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

MEBO’s partner in Lebanon, a branch of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development called Baptist Children and Youth Ministry, works tirelessly to serve children from many different backgrounds, and in a variety of creative ways, as a demonstration of God’s love for them. This fall, a long-term partnership with one particular Lebanese orphanage, one which is home to children whose stateless plight has left them without legal identification and thus without education, is leading the BCYM team to embrace a new challenge.

This dedicated group of women and men always demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond in the service of children and teens. In the next few months, their commitment will lead them to break new ground on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in Lebanese society. The BCYM team will begin partnering in a new way with the leadership of the orphanage who have, for years, sheltered and provided for their young residents in many ways. They have not, however, been able to break through the extensive barriers to provide them with a formal educational setting. After much planning and prayer, the time has come to offer these kids something they’ve never had before, and so BCYM is launching into new territory: an alternative education project for unschooled children on the LSESD campus in Mansourieh.

Starting a school or education project is always a demanding endeavor. But this journey will be characterized by especially unique challenges. How do you develop and design a school environment for children whose life circumstances have meant they’ve never had access to a structured school day before? How do you begin to equip 11 and 12 year olds, for instance, with the necessary habits and disciplines to become successful learners? School norms such as “raising hands, respecting a teacher, sitting in a desk, holding a pencil, not freaking out when they make a mistake, etc.” are skills these children have not had the opportunity to learn, the orphanage staff shares.

Further, many of their residents “have not developed to the usual stage for their age in many areas,” and so many developmental gaps and special needs will have to be considered when designing this educational opportunity in a way that will allow them to thrive. “Our kids come from a background of trauma, abuse, and neglect,” these staff members continue. “Things learned at home in healthy families are not learned by our kids: patience, waiting, not interrupting, persevering through difficulty, encouragement, positive touch, and positive affirmation of accomplishments.” Behavior issues are sure to be a challenge in the new academy, especially initially.

The common area inside the academy, where only finishing touches are required! (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

The common area inside the academy, where only finishing touches are required! (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

Other challenges will include very short attention spans, and the impossibility of dividing the children into classes based on their age or even their level of ability. For this reason, the team is working hard to be able to eventually provide customized learning journeys with as much individualized attention as possible.  The high turn-over rate that characterizes many group homes and orphanages, and how that will affect the day-to-day dynamic of the school environment, also has to be taken into account.

For that reason, extensive brainstorming, prayer, and preparation have been part of this year’s planning process to ensure the excellence of the program and the success of children who will begin attending classes at the new academy.  The plan this team has arrived at demonstrates great wisdom and sensitivity to the children they want to serve. This fall’s “phase one” of the educational project will begin with just the 10 to 17-year-old residents of the orphanage. Initially, these children will come to the new academy for an abbreviated school day. The project’s leaders have set as their goals for this initial phase 1) build the students’ stamina gradually, 2) build a school culture together, and 3) discover and begin to address the challenges that will inevitably emerge. This will allow them to prepare well for “Phase 2,” which willinvolve all the school-age children at the orphanage – approximately 50 kids! – and will allow for more extended school days.

A garden area the children will have access to during the school day. (Photo: BCYM team)

A garden area the children will have access to during the school day. (Photo: BCYM team)

Will you join us in praying for the BCYM team, the orphanage staff, and the children who will soon embark on the new opportunity being provided for them? Pray for wisdom and patience for the leaders who will serve the children each day at the school, and for the new students themselves. Everyone involved will need God’s grace and help in this project that so clearly reflects His merciful heart.

If you would like to know more about how you can partner with Baptist Children and Youth Ministry in Lebanon, contact us!  There are many meaningful opportunities for Western believers to serve, give, and pray!

Photography Note: Both BCYM and the orphanage have confidentiality/privacy policies to protect the vulnerable children being served. At this time, no photos of children may be shown, but we hope to show you some of them in the future!

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