In the south of Lebanon lies the country’s third largest city, Saida. Located on the coast, the word Saida means fishing town and is now home to the Syrian refugee camp Ouzai where SB OverSeas has been working since December 2016.
Ouzai shelter in Saida
The shelter, originally a partially built university building, now hosts over 1,500 refugees who fled the Syrian conflict
from the same village. This lends to the community vibe of the shelter, and it is not uncommon to see children who are cousins all playing in the square together. It is here, in this community, that we run our education and empowerment programs with our school and centre being located in the abandoned university’s structure.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, there is a generation of children, the so-called ‘lost generation’ who are at risk of not receiving an education. In the small country of Lebanon, where almost 1 in 3 children are Syrian refugees (No Lost Generation 2017 Report), there have been efforts made to ensure that all children are receiving education through initiatives such as the double-shift system, however, approximately 37% of Syrian refugee children still remain out of school. There are a variety of reasons for this including harsh residency permits, costs associated with education, child marriage and labour, as well as language and other barriers. The Lebanese educational system, in contrast with the Syrian educational system, is not only taught in Arabic but also French and English (France24, Lebanon’s public schools welcome displaced children). In addition to this, the children must pass an entry test in order to enter the Lebanese public schooling system.
It is this educational gap that SB OverSeas attempts to bridge through our ‘catch-up’ schools. In Saida, we have 300 children attending our school. The uniqueness of Saida given its strong community vibe due to the same origin of the inhabitants as well as the inclusion of SB into the community has been recognised by SB employees and volunteers. In the words of one of our former volunteers, ‘it is as if someone lifted up the village in Syria and just planted it in Lebanon’.
‘You feel as though you are helping an entire community which is far more impactful’, states another one of our volunteers. This feeling is reflected in the invitations for tea in the local families homes as well as playing with the children after school ends.
In the words of the Saida Project Manager, Kevin Charbel:
“We began last year with a small team and difficult circumstances, but with a hope to see our children beat the odds”, said Charbel, “and today, children who weren’t reading a year ago are reading; children who weren’t laughing a year ago are laughing. With literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking skills, our children are at less risk of child marriage, child labor, and exploitation. The center is providing employment for residents at Ouzai and has hosted over 40 local and international volunteers. And yet, in many ways, our work has just begun. Keeping the center open depends on continued focus, effort and support, and we will keep working to help the families in Saida gain ground.”
Project Manager, Kevin Charbel, with some of the students.
SB OverSeas works in three locations in Lebanon helping displaced people due to the Syrian conflict. Our centre in
Saida is SB’s largest project and has been running for over a year. We offer three school shifts daily, as well as Women’s Empowerment Courses and psychological support.