Beirut, Lebanon, September 27, 2020 — With 163 schools damaged by the Beirut explosion, at least 1 in 4 children in the city are now at risk of missing out on their education, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns.
Over 85,000 pupils were registered at the schools damaged by the blasts and it will take up to a year for the most severely damaged buildings to be repaired.
Although the Ministry of Education is working hard to find spaces for children in new schools, the added disruption this will bring to their lives is cause for serious concern.
- Those from damaged schools will have long distances to travel in order to reach their new place of study, as well as additional transport costs - something that poorer families will be unable to afford
- For children using public transport, safety and harassment will be major concerns - especially for those travelling to attend a school’s evening shift
- Children with disabilities - both pre-existing and those caused by the explosion - will face additional barriers as they navigate public transport to get to schools located far from their homes
Over the past week, the IRC has spoken to children and their families in Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Bourj Hammoud and Karantina - some of the areas worst affected by the blast - about the return to school. As well as reporting feelings of uncertainty due to a lack of clear guidance on how to enroll in alternative schools, they also expressed fears of another explosion and concerns that they would not be safe at school.
With the academic year now set to start again in mid-October, the IRC is warning that these factors will put many children at risk of dropping out of the education system over the coming months. IRC teams are continuing to meet children who remain deeply distressed by the events of August 4 and its aftermath. Following the recent fire at Beirut Port, they witnessed first-hand how quickly children’s fears resurfaced and how much support they continue to need. Although school should play an essential role in all children’s recovery, the IRC is warning that without urgent and substantive support, many are at risk of being denied access to this vital support system.
Mohammad Nasser, Acting Country Director for the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon, said:
Instead of being able to enjoy their summer holidays, children in Beirut had their lives torn apart by the explosions on August 4. Many saw their homes destroyed and family members hospitalized. Some lost those closest to them and others have been left with life-changing injuries themselves. Children need stability in their lives and school is usually the one place where they can get it. However, with so many unable to re-open as a result of the explosions, for many children, returning to school will not be an option.
We have met countless families over the past few weeks who, even before the explosions, had lost their jobs and were finding it hard to make ends meet. Now, even more are struggling to put food on the table and already, we are hearing of more children being sent to work to help boost their families’ incomes. Others at particular risk are those who will be placed in the afternoon and evening school shifts - especially girls. We expect that many families with daughters will not allow them to attend school due to fears for their safety on public transport, and overall, we are expecting to see far fewer children enrolled in schools this September and a high drop-out rate as the year progresses. More efforts must be made to prevent this. There is an urgent need for more funding for the education sector, not only to ensure that physical repairs to damaged school buildings are carried out, but also to ensure that all children who need it are provided with emotional support to help them deal with the distress they have been suffering with since the summer.
The IRC is making an urgent call for children to be given clear guidance and support on the school enrollment process and the learning opportunities available to them; for more investment to be made in distance learning and non-formal education opportunities so that all children are able to continue learning while their schools are being repaired, and for additional support to be provided to vulnerable families so that it is possible for their children to stay in school.
About the IRC in Lebanon
The IRC began working in Lebanon in 2012, supporting both Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities. In 2019, the organization reached over 89,000 people through its work implementing education, economic recovery and development, and women’s and child protection programs in all regions of Lebanon. It also provides legal assistance and skills training, and across all programming it works to prevent and respond to gender-based violence.
The IRC is coordinating with the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), the UN, as well as local and international NGOs, to prepare children affected by the Beirut explosion for the return to school.
The IRC is also involved in creating a digitized version of the Lebanese Grade 1-6 curriculum to be used by all schools for online distance learning in Arabic, French and English and for Math and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). This is a collaboration with the MEHE and the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD).
The IRC is continuing to provide Non Formal Education or support to Formal Education for Syrian refugee children in Beqaa and North Lebanon. SEL is our particular focus, along with teacher training and developing interactive material and animated videos for all children.
The IRC’s current response in Beirut
The International Rescue Committee is providing emergency cash and protection assistance - including psychological first aid - to those impacted and displaced by the August 4th explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. We are prioritizing children, families and individuals who were residing in blast-affected areas; suffered high levels of property damage or destruction of immediate livelihoods; and individuals and families with limited resources to cope with the effects of the damage to property and wellbeing. This includes persons with disabilities (both new and pre-existing), older persons without support networks, female-headed households, and families who have suffered physical injuries and/or severe psychological distress.
In the hospitals, we have been providing children with psychological support as they wait for news of their loved ones, and now - with their caregivers well enough to be discharged - we have been providing emergency cash assistance to help them get back on their feet. In some cases, they and their families have been unable to return home due to the damage, so our cash assistance has been ensuring that they have somewhere safe to stay and are able to buy food and other basic necessities.
Our child protection tent has been providing a safe space for children in Karantina - one of the areas closest to the site of the explosion - to play and receive psychosocial support from dedicated case workers deployed from our programmes across Lebanon. This is a mobile tent and is being deployed where the need is determined to be the greatest.