From the thousands of people who volunteered in Beirut after the massive explosion, to the thousands of refugees rebuilding their lives after fleeing Syria, Lebanon is a country full of resilient people.
Meet three of them: Widad, Joumana, Gharam.
These Syrian girls have had to start afresh since fleeing war and coming to Lebanon, with new homes, new friends and new schools. They’ve risen to the challenge and set their sights high, with dream jobs that they hope will make it possible for them to give back and help others.
To help them achieve their dreams, the IRC runs safe spaces in Northern Lebanon where Syrian girls can get an education and receive emotional support to recover from the trauma of war.
With support from the European Union, IRC staff have worked tirelessly to keep learning accessible during the pandemic, operating remote sessions and making sure social-distancing is followed in the centres.
Widad, Joumana and Gharam explain what getting an education means to them.
Dream job: lawyer
“I love learning - it makes me feel important. It gives me a good feeling that I can read whenever I visit a place.”
Widad plans to become a lawyer when she’s older, but her ambitions don’t stop there. “It gives me a great pleasure to help other people. I will make the world a cleaner place and provide good and delicious food, so people feel comfortable and happy. I will open more centres like this one to provide education for as many children as possible.”
Widad is speaking from inside the brightly-painted rooms of the IRC’s Early Learning Centre, which is helping her to catch up on lost years of education.
I remember so little about my school in Syria.
“I vaguely remember how we used to play ball in the streets. Some of my school friends live next to us in Lebanon, sometimes we sit together and we try to remember how it was.
“I stopped [going to school] for a long time when we came to Lebanon, schools didn’t accept me because I wasn’t on the same level. It felt sad.”
Widad is now thriving at the IRC’s centre, having rediscovered her love for learning. “My favourite subject is French. I know the numbers, the weekdays, and the months in French,” she explains proudly.
Dream job: journalist
Joumana smiles proudly, holding her schoolwork towards the camera. Originally from Homs in Syria, she has spent most of her childhood as a refugee in Lebanon.
As schools began shutting down across the country during lockdown, Joumana had unwavering determination to learn. Speaking with her teachers over the phone and diligently completing her homework every day, she carried on with her education in any way she could.
After spending time out of school because of the war, Joumana values the opportunities that school has afforded her.
Drawing inspiration from her teacher, Ms. Thouraya, she hopes to become a journalist. “I want to work for peace,” she says.
Apart from vital skills like reading, writing, and maths, the IRC’s learning centre also helps girls like Joumana manage their emotions. Syrian children we work with are often dealing with complex trauma and psychological distress as a result of escaping war. The schools provide children spaces to play together and build healthy relationships.
“I have a lot of friends at the centre, and we all play and learn together. I help them with all the classes and schoolwork,” says Joumana. “My favourite subjects are maths and social emotional learning. Through it, I learned how to deal with people and how to talk to them. I learned not to hit other children, and instead make peace among them. If I see someone crying, I try to do whatever I can to help them.”
Dream job: teacher
“The teachers make me believe in myself. The way they listen to children and help them, I want to do the same when I grow up.”
Gharam has spent most of her life in Lebanon, leaving Syria when she was just three years old.
The distant image an aircraft flying overhead as it dropped bombs on her home is the only memory she has of that time.
Having spent nine years in North Lebanon, Gharam now has access to many learning opportunities at the IRC Child Protection Centre, including language classes. “I enjoy the Arabic and the French classes,” she says. “I also learned the days in French: Lundi, Mardi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi, Samedi, Dimanche.” Gharam dreams of a future where she can teach children in her home country.
I hope the situation gets better so I can go back to Syria – and that I can become a teacher, just like the teachers at the centre.
Like many other Syrian girls wanting to take control of their own lives, Gharam considers education to be the first step in doing so. She talks of how learning to read and write helps not only her, but also her loved ones, and has given her the skills to be able to help her mother to understand information when they go to the doctor.
Gharam’s advice for other girls like her is clear. “I advise them to continue their education so they can make their dreams come true,” she says. Looking up from her colourful storybook, she shares some profound last words: “I want all children to stay happy even when they grow old, and to get all their rights. Happiness is much better than sadness.”
The International Rescue Committee's support for Syrian girls in Lebanon is funded by the EU through the Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO).