School Lunches for Refugee Children: A Vision Materializing

June 28, 2016

Ashley al-Saliby 

BEIRUT: Have you ever eaten a manouche? Try to imagine this savory Lebanese breakfast favorite. The base is a piece of hot bread: more thick and dense than a tortilla, bigger than a pancake (but not as fluffy), and baked over an open fire. Mana’eesh (plural of manouche) come in the well-loved “zaatar” variety (a spice mix of thyme and sesame seeds), topped with a creamy, gooey cheese spread, or covered generously with a mix of minced meat and spices. In this region of the world, everyone loves to grab them from the local “oven” for a quick breakfast on the go, wrapped in greasy paper and smelling like everything you wanted when you woke up that morning. A manouche is always savory, hearty, and filling.

A manouche "jibneh" (cheese) from a local "oven" in Lebanon. (Photo: Wissam al-Saliby)

A manouche “jibneh” (cheese) from a local “oven” in Lebanon. (Photo: Wissam al-Saliby)

You can imagine the delight, then, when refugee children who have been bent over their worksheets, focused on a math problem or language exercise, look up to see a tray of hot mana’eesh being carried through the door of the classroom. Their teachers might have picked up on the sound of rumbling tummies or seen the distracted stare of hunger earlier in the day and be grateful for the arrival, too.

Many of you who participated in MEBO’s Year End Appeal six months ago contributed directly to this scene through your generosity. You heard the story of an alternative education project serving refugee children in Lebanon and of the administrator’s desire to provide the kids with meals when they come to school each day. And you gave! Because of your partnership, refugee children are receiving a warm meal two days each week. Those days of the week are eagerly anticipated by the children, their teachers shared. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they’re greeted with expectant kids asking, “Teacher? Lunch today?”

School Lunches for Refugee Children: A Vision Materializing

Refugee children studying in the alternative education project’s kindergarten class. (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

Within the same span of months, the education project has also expanded to offer the gift of a school environment – a safe and stimulating space amidst the day-to-day hardship of refugee life – to three hundred more children through the establishment of several tent schools. This, in addition to the three hundred young lives already being served at the church where the project began, still only touches a small percentage of the refugee children who live within close proximity and would love the same opportunity. Far from being daunted, however, the team is hopeful and visionary! Tackling the day-to-day challenges and logistics of a large-scale effort they couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago, our dedicated Lebanese partners continue to do as much as they can with the resources available to them.

One teacher shared, “the children so appreciate the meals they receive. Their faces light up!” Earlier in the school year, the teachers had requested that a way be found to provide meals to the students. “We could tell that some of the children weren’t able to concentrate because of hunger. Of course, none of us function well when we haven’t eaten.”

Refugee children receiving fresh, hot mana'eesh and fruit juice. They were excited! (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

Refugee children receiving fresh, hot mana’eesh and fruit juice. They were excited! (Photo: Ashley al-Saliby)

Another teacher shared that, on the days when the education project isn’t able to provide meals, most of the children are sent by their parents with a small snack of some sort: a few cucumbers, or a thin layer of fruit spread on a piece of Arabic bread. The hot meals they receive from the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, however –  like Lebanon’s infamous mana’eesh or a shawarma sandwich (another specialty of the region, consisting of uniquely roasted and thinly shaved chicken in a sandwich wrap with garlic sauce and French fries) –  are a special treat.

The dedicated Lebanese leadership of this valuable project would love to be able to offer meals more often when classes resume again this fall, as funding becomes available. God’s provision through the ongoing generosity of His people could make that desire a reality. To find out more about the ways our partners in the region are offering relief and aid to refugee families, click here!

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