Arsal, once a town of 35,000 people, now hosts over 70,000 Syrian refugees who have fled conflict to find safety in this city located in north-east Lebanon. However, this sense of safety is not easily found. The city, located just a stone’s throw away from the Syrian boarder, has been subject to spillover from the Syrian conflict, most notably in 2014 when IS and Jabhat-al-Nusra attacked Arsal.
Harsh living conditions
The 70,000 Syrian refugees find themselves living in informal clusters of makeshift shelters. These flimsy tents are no match for the harsh winters where snowfalls are sometimes up to one meter, as well as monsoon-like rainfalls and ice-cold temperatures. In February, our partners the Green Helmets winterised the shelters by reinforcing the structures with wood and metal, and by providing a roofs and windows thus further protecting from the elements as well as facilitating ventilation and light into the tents.
SB Overseas in Arsal
It is here, that SB OverSeas carries out its mission to provide education, aid and empowerment since 2014. The porous border with Syria has led to previous disruptions in our operations with increased tensions and violence between government forces and retreating ISIL fighters in 2017. This forced SB OverSeas to close its humanitarian projects temporarily in this region. However, we were able to resume our operations a few months later and in November 2017 reopened our school and women’s centre. Given the obvious dangers of the region, SB OverSeas was the only organisation working on the ground to provide education in this area at the time.
Our project in Arsal consists of a school and two women’s centre where we provide vocational training and a ‘safe space’ for women. In addition, the materials collected as part of clothing campaigns are sent to Arsal, along with Beirut and Saida, to be distributed to our beneficiaries.
Our school Kalam Wa Ibra, meaning bridges of hope, provides education to an average of 200 children a year. We want to not only bridge the educational gap by preparing the children for entry into the Lebanese schooling system, but also provide a bridge to hope and a future where life is not threatened by war.
SB OverSeas works in Belgium and Lebanon to provide education, aid and empowerment to vulnerable communities.