Lebanon: Returning to Childhood

25 June 2018

Children at recess at the FVDL center. (Kristóf Hölvényi/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Beirut – The sound of elated voices can be heard down the street. Joyful exclamations and laughs bounce between building and back alley. These are the sounds of children at recess: playing house or make-believe, spinning tops, and climbing on jungle-gyms.

It was these voices that Amineh*, a Syrian refugee, heard after moving into a new, but cramped, apartment that overlooked the Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) Frans van der Lugt (FVDL) Centre in Bourj Hammoud.

The municipality of Bourj Hammoud, northeast of Lebanon’s capital city, is an Armenian neighborhood where many people settled after fleeing the Armenian genocide. Now, the area is also home to Iraqi Christians and Syrian refugees.

For refugee children in the area, accessing adequate education can be a considerable challenge. Syrian refugee children are able to enroll in formal Lebanese school at the secondary level, but many children are unprepared for the course load after having been out of school for some time.

The FVDL Centre, named after Fr. Frans van der Lugt SJ, understands the needs of displaced people and has developed programs specifically for young refugee students who are struggling to continue their education.

Operating in two sessions, one of the programs provides informal early childhood and primary education to students who otherwise would not attend school. Another program runs only in the mornings and is for secondary students already enrolled in the Lebanese school system who need additional learning support before they head to class in the afternoon.

For refugee children, the opportunity to pursue an education is about more than just developing academically. “The best place for kids to be safe is school,” explains Ms Gassia Tenekejian, the Pedagogical Coordinator at the JRS FVDL Centre.

The FVDL Centre is a place where students can heal from past trauma and are protected from risks associated with living through displacement as children, such as trafficking, child labor, and early marriage.

This was part of the reason Amineh knew it was essential to enroll her children at the center. She understood it was a safe place where her children could thrive, rebuild hope, and regain a part of childhood that violence and conflict had robbed from them.

The laughter and light of FVDL Centre students as they play during recess confirms that they are on their way to a new and bright future: one that offers each child, even those who are displaced, an education.