School: A Necessary Evil?

School is a privilege for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

I dreaded going to school as a child. It felt like such a burden! Getting up early to catch the bus, all the reading, writing and homework. And Math! Math was the worst. I just wanted to have fun and play with my friends. Besides the all-too-short enjoyment of recess, school just got in the way of that. In my mind school felt like a necessary evil.

But like many things in life, we often don’t realize how good something is until it is gone.

While most of us never had to experience having school taken away from us, that is the experience of so many Syrian refugee children. They have missed years of school are can’t access the formal education system in the countries where they have fled. This is the situation in Lebanon, where FH partners with the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD).

Close to half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are children. The recently released 2016 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR) reported that 48 percent of Syrian school-aged children in Lebanon are out of school. This number increases in the Bekaa Valley, one of the primary areas where LSESD is working, with a reported 70 percent of all school aged Syrian children out of school and 84 percent of secondary age Syrian students out of school.

The Ministry of Education is actively seeking to increase capacity of the public school system, but the number of non-Lebanese children in Lebanon still far exceeds the spaces available.

Experience and research tell us that education is important for all children to build essential life skills, learn social and cultural norms, learn to build friendships and self-awareness, in addition to the necessary basic skills that enable children to pursue a fruitful future and contribute to society.

All of these things are just as important for refugee children.

Synrian refugee boy in informal schoolBut in addition to that, school is vitally important for a number of other reasons for children who have fled their homes and war. School provides a safe environment where children are protected from further harm and danger. School provides daily structure and routine that helps children regain a sense of normalcy and belonging. Children are naturally resilient, but activities at school promote resiliency by giving children productive outlets to process their experiences, emotions and bounce back from the trauma of war and fleeing their home. These are some of the many reasons why education is preserved as a basic human right in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Food for the Hungry’s local partner, LSESD, provides non-formal education to over 1,200 refugee children in 10 learning centers in Lebanon.

These education projects confirm what research and experience tell us about education. But let me allow the children to speak for themselves by sharing some of the results of a recent child-focused participatory evaluation. In this activity, children were asked to draw a child going to school and not going to school. They were given a white sheet of paper with two child figure outlines. They were asked to fill in their features and backgrounds to show how these children feel and what they do when they are in or out of school. Here are a few examples and notable quotes.

We asked Syrian refugee children to draw how it feels to be out of school“The one who doesn’t go to school looks at the one who does and cries.”
“His [the boy who doesn’t go to school’s] heart has stopped. He’s sick. He’s allergic.”
“The one who doesn’t go to school is crying.”
“The one who goes to school is considerate and helps old people.”
“The one who doesn’t go to school hates the world. Hates everyone.”
“Happy is reading, writing and going to school.”
“The one who doesn’t go to school plays with a ball and a bicycle. But he’s sad because he doesn’t go to school.”
“A child who doesn’t go to school is very sad.”
“Yussef is sad. He has to work. His sister pretends to go to school and is happy.”

In partnership with the Integral Alliance and the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) in Lebanon, Food for the Hungry is helping to provide vital, non-formal education to children like this so they can heal, grow and not lose their future. To learn more and to help with this life-saving work go to