Lebanon (MNN) — On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the total official number of Syrians who have fled the ongoing violence in their homeland and crossed borders into neighboring Lebanon has reached 779,000.
In the last week alone, the agency registered more than 13,000 Syrian refugees who crossed into Lebanon. The refugees are distributed among Lebanese areas as follows: 226,000 in Baqaa, 217,000 in northern Lebanon, 144,000 in Beirut and suburbs, and 90,000 in southern Lebanon, according to the report.
The Lebanese government estimates that there are more than half a million who have not registered. On September 30, Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour pleaded for more international support to tackle the huge influx of refugees from Syria. The country with 4% of Oregon's land area and a bigger population has no sitting government.
As bad as it is, there is yet another level of loss that isn't being discussed: the kids. Thousands of Syrian refugee children perform menial jobs in Lebanon instead of going to school. Stories of child exploitation and abuse are rampant.
Jed Hamoud, a board member with Kids Alive International, explains, "There is a challenge to the ministry, as well, in the fact that the Lebanese system does not allow for non-Lebanese to attend any public education, be it elementary, middle school, high school, or even colleges."
Plus, Lebanon's languages of instruction are English and French. Syrian schools teach in Arabic.
That leaves refugees the option of private schools. However, with so few jobs to go around in a country where almost a fifth of the population is refugees, Hamoud says, "Private schools…are very expensive and financially almost prohibitive. Kids Alive is almost the only ministry that's open to take in the students."
Syrian parents are desperate. They encounter hostility amidst the Lebanese who believe the Syrian influx threatens national security, according to a recent poll conducted in May by Fafo, a Norwegian foundation. They cling to any hope that comes their way. Hamoud says, "The word has gotten out to many of the refuges that the Kids Alive Home does accept children into their school system. Recently, we've been inundated with applications from Syrian refugees."
Right now, Kids Alive's school has close to 30 kids. They're trying to expand to take on more, but funding is already stretched thin. The ministry is already supporting the Dar El Awlad Children's Home, Dar El Awlad School, Moses' Basket Care Center, Home of Serenity for Girls, an Advanced Education Fund, and the Lebanon New Horizons Center. "We need funding to create more space to take in more refugee children. In terms of hiring more teachers, [Kids Alive] also needs financial support to pay salaries for more teachers."
The schools provide meals, supplies, and books. They also need to hire more national teachers to accommodate the growing student body. "It does two things: first of all, it speeds up the process of getting teachers on board, and [then] it helps the economy by giving people who are unemployed employment by teaching at the orphanage."
The education provided by Kids Alive helps children grow up into the people the team knows God wants them to be. The Gospel is woven into every area of their work. This is the difference Kids Alive provides–and the hope an education can make.
It's that critical difference that adds pressure on the staff, says Hamoud. Safety is an issue now. Please pray with the team that the ministry sites in Lebanon will remain safe havens for the kids. Pray for wisdom for the staff, too. "The conflict in Syria is also starting to spill over into Lebanon. So we are worrying about the stability of the country in Lebanon, and not just because of what's happening in Syria, but how that's really affecting the population of Lebanon and splitting the people of Lebanon."