Middle East (MNN) — A disturbing report from UNICEF yesterday reveals new statistics behind the abuse and harassment of refugee children and women.
Thousands of refugees try to cross into Europe via the Mediterranean route through North Africa, and specifically Libya. In 2016, the report stated 25,846 kids tried to cross this way — double what it was the previous year. Nine out of ten children who traveled this route were unaccompanied minors.
UNICEF researchers interviewed women and children who attempted the Mediterranean route into Europe. Three-quarters of the children reported abuse or harassment in some way by an adult on their journey. One-third of refugee kids indicated they had been victimized in Libya. Almost half of the women and children said they had been sexually abused.
The Empty Schoolbag
With so many refugee kids unaccompanied or on the streets in camps, the potential for continued abuse is high. Rita El Mounayer, Chief Channel Officer and Deputy CEO with SAT-7, says they want to help get refugee kids off the camp streets. SAT-7 is a Christian satellite television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa, and El Mounayer went with a few other SAT-7 staff members to visit refugees in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.
El Mounayer explains, “I’m from Beqaa Valley. This is where I was born, this is where I lived the majority of my childhood. When I went there and I saw the needs, of course there is need like the food and the drink and the clothing and heating, but you see a big need of keeping the children off the street.”
While she was there, El Mounayer asked the kids what it is they wished for or wanted. She expected immediately gratifying answers such as more toys, better tents, or food. But their answer surprised her.
“They said, ‘We want to go to school.’ One particular boy, he said, ‘Wait, wait!’ He went and got something and he brought me a schoolbag. He said, ‘I carried it all the way from Aleppo!’ Then he opened it and said, ‘But look, it’s empty.’ This gave me and the team with me, because we were three or four people from SAT-7, the passion to do something for these children.”
A Rescue for Refugee Kids
The SAT-7 team also visited a refugee family in their tent, and El Mounayer noted something interesting. “This room has nothing, just mattresses. In this room, they sleep, they eat, the women cook, they socialize, the children play in this room. But in the corner of that room there is a television set hooked to a satellite, and children, to keep them off the street, they watch television.”
Not all refugee kids can go to school, and in fact, around half of refugee kids are out of school right now. But many have access to satellite television. So SAT-7 did something about it.
“We took the educational curriculum…from Syria and we adapted it to the Lebanese curriculum. We started in March 2015 a program called My School. We started from grade one with Arabic, English, and math…. Every year, we [add] another grade, so now we are in the process of grade four, and repeating grades one, two, and three.”
El Mounayer says these educational programs impact more than just the kids. “The interesting thing, when I visited the camps another time, you see they’re sitting the floor and learning with their mothers. The mother is learning too a bit of English, a bit of Arabic, and how to read and write.”
Critical Thinking…Why Does It Matter?
The SAT-7 program My School has been impactful over the last several years. In 2016, more than 1.3 million children across ten Arab countries watched My School every day. But now, SAT-7 has decided to launch an entirely new 24/7 educational channel called SAT-7 ACADEMY. The new channel should begin broadcasting this summer.
One of the bigger reasons for a 24/7 educational channel for refugee kids and teens is the need for critical thinking skills development.
El Mounayer, having been through the education system in Lebanon, explains, “Our educational system is just learning by rote. So you memorize things, but you don’t understand those things. All you want is to pass an exam and then go to university. I remember, this is a personal thing, I went and studied in England after high school and I was shocked because there was no conclusion to anything. I came to my teacher and I said, ‘So what’s wrong and right?’ And he said, ‘Well, you have to figure it out. You have to think about wrong and right.’ But this is not the education system in the Middle East. In the Middle East, you memorize, this is wrong, this is right, [and] you follow.”
That’s where SAT-7 ACADEMY comes in. “This is a channel where we continue with the curriculum for children, teaching them to read and write, but beyond that, the critical thinking, analysis, how to make their own choices in life, [and] teaching them how to accept others, even if the others are different. We are in a diverse society. If you don’t agree with me, it doesn’t mean you’re my enemy. This is what makes us rich living together in society,” she reflects.
“By helping teachers, by helping parents, and by helping children [who are] not going to school, you are introducing a new culture and approach for education where people start thinking, analyzing, knowing what is wrong and what is right, making their own choices, and therefore, will not be followers anymore.”
While SAT-7 ACADEMY won’t explicitly talk about the Gospel, it will advertise for SAT-7’s other channels that share the message of Christ in an obvious and hopeful way, with the intent of turning people’s hearts towards God the Father.
Education and a Personal Reflection
Education holds a lot of meaning for El Mounayer personally, and her background is a big part of why she is so passionate about this ministry with SAT-7.
“I come from a very poor family. My dad with two daughters and three boys that came later on, even though we were poor, sometimes dad borrowed money to put us in a private school to give us an education. And he told us time and time, ‘Listen, I don’t have inheritance to give you — not a piece of land, not money in the bank, not a building, not even a flag. I don’t own anything in Lebanon. But I can give you education, because education (he was military) is a weapon in your hand, especially for girls.’”
El Mounayer shares, “Now, each time I stand up and speak to people with my position now in SAT-7, I just think and remember my dad. My dad passed away more than 15 years ago. I remember him because he invested in my education [and] I had a second chance in life, and I achieved what I wanted to achieve and what God wanted me to achieve. I hope, like my dad gave me this chance, that we as Christians and especially at SAT-7 give these millions of children a chance to get a proper education.”
Please pray for SAT-7 ACADEMY’s launch this summer, that everything would be released smoothly and that millions more children in refugee camps and across the Arab world would grow cognitively and spiritually. Pray that kids and families who watch SAT-7’s various Christian programs would come to know Christ as their Savior.