International (MNN) — The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that one in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.
Dale Dieleman, vice president of Tent Schools International (formerly Worldwide Christian Schools), says these people are among the most vulnerable, marginalized people groups in the world.
Plus, “Some studies recently have shown that over 85% of refugee children in refugee camps, for example, are suffering severe post-traumatic stress. Of that number, around 25% have even had thoughts of suicide because they feel so hopeless.”
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often supply food, water, and basic shelter, but Dieleman notes another impact that had been overlooked for a while: “One of the impacts–particularly for children–is the disruption of your education. For a child, this is huge. This is very traumatic, on top of…witnessing very traumatic events in their life.”
When hope vanishes, disillusionment takes over. In refugee camps, traffickers and extremists target the youngest in order to capitalize on their lost future.
Tent schools: a revolutionary idea
It is precisely that scenario that launched WWCS on its journey to becoming Tent Schools International. In 2012, WWCS turned 25 years old. As the team marked the anniversary, they also began to reflect on this question: “Where is God leading us in the next 25 years?”
The tent cities that sprouted in refugee camps in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia provided the answer. Dieleman explains, “This is a population group that we think we can work with. Local people on the ground, Christian groups that are trying to do two things: number one, restore that educational process wherever a child has left off. Secondly, restore hope through the Gospel.”
Because tent schools are temporary in nature, it became obvious that their expertise in education blended well with the on-the-go scenario they were thinking of. It meant education could meet the kids wherever they were, using a two pronged approach: tents and technology. “We can hopefully help them restore their education and restore hope, but also give them an opportunity to really find out what the real hope in life is, and that is through the Gospel.”
For each tent school start-up, says Dieleman, “We’re relying on a network of partnerships. For example, in Lebanon right now, we are partnering with a Christian organization that has already started three such tent schools.” Just over $20,000 is needed for tent materials, school supplies, rent, heating fuel, and three 10-month teacher salaries. Each school will serve 50 children who haven’t been to school in months–or in some cases, years–since fleeing Syria or other conflict zones.
To the children, these schools are havens of calm and structure in the chaos of camp life. ”This is done through very compassionate teachers, through people who are there, alongside these children, giving them an opportunity to be children for a few hours a day in a welcoming, compassionate, learning environment”, explains Dieleman.
Due to the scope of the Syrian refugee crisis, Tent Schools International is raising funds to help begin a new tent school in Lebanon for 50 students by March of 2016. Dieleman asks you to consider what you might do to be able to help, and then, “Pray for the children. Pray for their families. Pray that any child that is reached, that they can actually find hope and peace through Jesus Christ.”