Lebanon (MNN) — Refugee children have been robbed of their childhood and their education because of war and violence in their home countries. And as foreigners, there are usually barriers preventing these same kids from attending school in their country of asylum.
“[About] 52-55 percent of the refugee population in Lebanon is 18 years or younger,” Heart for Lebanon’s Camille Melki says.
Heeding the Children’s Cries
Heart for Lebanon provides physical aid to refugees living in Lebanon. However, the ministry is also concerned for the well-being of the children living in the refugee camps.
“There’s a Lebanese saying that goes, ‘Such an empty mind is the factory of the devil’,” Melki shares. “So imagine a kid full of energy, full of a desire to go out and explore, learn—and is confined to this small refugee tent settlement. Living in despair. Hearing…stories of brokenness and hatred.”
Melki says kids are like sponges. When they hear these stories in the camps, they begin imitating the speech and the actions of the adults in their lives. In fact, it is not uncommon to find refugee kids playing war or chanting curses against people who are different from themselves. Right or wrong, this is all these kids know.
These children have been traumatized. They’ve watched their families be ripped apart, abducted, and exterminated. During winter, one girl crossed into Lebanon through the mountains with her pregnant mother. She stood behind her and watched as her mother was killed at the checkpoint. Without hope, these kids are a prime target for recruitment by terrorists.
“Traumatized kids have one of two ways to respond, either they withdraw or they become very aggressive. In both cases, you’re talking about a child who has a lot of emotional and psychological need,” Melki explains.
But, Heart for Lebanon is stepping in through its H.O.P.E. Centers and giving these kids a second chance at a childhood. Through its education programs in its H.O.P.E. Centers, kids are given the chance to learn and express themselves. Heart for Lebanon currently has three centers in the country.
“We have what we call the ‘H.O.P.E. Schools’—Help Overcome Poverty through Education. Then again, like anything else we do, when we’re addressing poverty we’re not only talking about the physical poverty, but also the emotional and the spiritual poverty,” Melki says.
“We’re very proud of our academic program. We call them non-formal education…a student who comes our way is learning Arabic, is learning English as a second language, learning math, learning sciences, but also they’re learning music, art, and drama. [We are] helping these children express their fears through art, through music.”
Most importantly, however, Heart for Lebanon’s H.O.P.E. Schools incorporate Biblical character traits, like integrity, in its curriculum. Parents and guardians of these kids who attend the school know Heart for Lebanon’s H.O.P.E. Schools talk about Christ and teach from a Biblical perspective. This is not kept a secret.
God’s Work Through Heart for Lebanon
However, a lot of the children who attend H.O.P.E. Schools start when they are aggressive, angry, withdrawn, disobedient, and fearful. But through time, positive change is seen in these same kids.
“They become your best evangelists in the camps. When we go to visit, we hear them singing the hymns that they have learned in our H.O.P.E. Centers. When we’re telling a story in a camp, you see them trying to add and continue the story as our staff members are telling it,” Melki says.
“They’re the ones who are telling their parents about what they’ve heard in the classroom. Now we have parents who are interested in literacy programs. Asking to learn to read and write because of their kids. These are children who gather together at night and pray.”
Parents See Positive Change
It is not uncommon for parents to ask Heart for Lebanon workers “What did you do to our kids?” because of the positive changes. Some kids who were disobedient are now more obedient. The same kids are even encouraging their parents to pray before they eat. And these kids are acting like children again. They have been given the chance to have a life beyond the terror they escaped both physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“If we want to restore normality, we want the child to have the right to ride a bus, go to school, sit in a classroom, play in a playground. So, we take the hard route trying not to shortcut this process. It’s a bit more expensive, but kids eventually enjoy it. They look around them, they see they’re like any other normal child,” Melki explains.
Be Prayerful, Be Active
These children can even learn a musical instrument. H.O.P.E. Schools holds a couple events a year where these kids can perform during musical concerts. At the end of a Christmas concert, a mother came to Melki and told him, “With war or without war, I would not have thought that my child would have the opportunity to play the violin.” Yet, this very thing happened in a Christian church, where the concert was held, in front of people from all walks of faith.
“We have a saying at Heart for Lebanon— ‘We’re going to pay the price for the hardship that these children are going through. Either the price of educating them today or the price of them turning into terrorists tomorrow’,” Melki recalls.
“It’s far cheaper to invest in them today and far greater reward at the end if they have been properly educated…Education is a source of freedom and liberation. And not only well educated…but they are in a position where they have learned what Christ is all about.”
So please, pray for these kids. Remember them as a gift of God and our future. Ask God to redeem their lives, give them hope, and bring them to a faith in Christ. Pray also for the parents of these kids that they would be encouraged and transformed by Christ through their children. And finally, ask God to give Heart for Lebanon workers perseverance, strength, and a faith worth imitating.
Header photo courtesy of Heart for Lebanon.