I am sitting in Place St Denis, a square filled with character located in Forest, in the south of Brussels. It is one of those rare sunny days, the Tuesday market is rumbling with people meandering around, the windows on the square have been flung to let in the spring air and people sit outside enjoying a cup a coffee.
“Spring usually doesn’t knock”, said the Italian song-writer Fabrizio de André, “she enters resolutely”. The tiny square shines, the sun illuminates the colorful mosaics on the floor. Place St- Denis is full of surprises. There is no need to look up to the clear sky, just look to the ground, to your feet, from the roots where it all begins. You will find mosaics depicting a smile, a child carrying a kite, a family holding hands.
A stones throw away from the square, there is the SB OverSeas headquarter, a Belgian NGO found in 2013 whose mission is to help refugees in Lebanon and Belgium. After the outbreak of the Syrian war, Lebanon found itself hosting more than 1 million refugees, the largest number per capita in the world. According to the latest UNHCR data, approximately more than half of the 500,000 school-age Syrian children registered in Lebanon are not enrolled in formal education. The families fled Syria to seek peace but found themselves without documents, necessities nor hope, once they arrived in Lebanese territory.
SB OverSeas and Louma Albik, its founder, could not stand back in the face of this humanitarian emergency and garnered all her network and resources to help those most in need. Through the team on the ground, they started to set-up schools, which offer the opportunity for these displaced children to catch-up in order to enter the Lebanese educational system. Most of the time, refugee children are not entering a classroom for a long time, almost seven years in some cases. Often displaced, they miss key years of education and most do not have a basic level of literacy. SB OverSeas runs three non-formal schools and womens’ centers in Beirut, Saida and Aarsal in order to bridge this educational gap.
The daily work of SB OverSeas’ team on the ground concentrates on education, empowerment of women and humanitarian aid. The NGO works to prevent a lost generation, child marriage and the exploitation of refugee children who are vulnerable in this situation. To provide humanitarian aid to the camps, every three months, SB OverSeas collects goods in its warehouse in Forest, Brussels which then reach thousands of families in Lebanon providing them with clothes and essential goods.
Humanity is one of the main principles of SB OverSeas and in this spirit, we work in Belgium. After having been present in Parc Maximilien in 2015, SB OverSeas and its team of volunteers organise activities for unaccompanied minors during the weekends in the refugee centers in Uccle and Noord-Heer-Ovembeek. “SB Espoir”, which translates as SB Hope and is the name of the program, aims to bring this hope to these young people by helping them to integrate into the host community through activities and share experiences to realize what bonds them as humans. Young people from different countries, learn to explore different ways of entering this new society: they attend chocolate-making courses, learn how to fix bikes, play team-building activities all the while learning how to share their thoughts constructively, listen to others and embrace the value of diversity.
SB OverSeas believes in a culture of integration through the increasing the awareness and the value of citizenship amongst the younger generations. Its work in Belgium is essential and complementary to their efforts in Lebanon with the goal of giving hope to children, families and supporting women in shaping their own future. SB OverSeas gives hope and whispers in their ears “tomorrow will be better”.