(Beirut) May 12, 2013 — The small town of Naameh lies less than 13 miles south of Beirut along the coastal road. Notorious for religious tensions and prone to violence between different sects, it seems an unlikely place to settle, yet it is now home to 50 Syrian families —about 300 individuals — who are taking shelter in a derelict school.
Mohsin*, a Lebanese resident of Naameh, says that he was moved by the sight of many Syrian families sleeping on the streets in and around the town.
"Women were also involved in activities that were not safe, just to have some money to support their children," he says.
Along with a friend, he petitioned the local municipality to open the abandoned school in Naameh to shelter Syrian families. He explains that it was not an easy task, but eventually the municipality agreed to it. Despite this they regularly receive random visits from the police asking them what they are doing, and telling them it is not permitted to have people living in the school.
The school comprises two levels, with basic bathroom facilities, a laundry area and some cooking amenities. Four big gas stoves are available and families take turns cooking throughout the day. There is roughly one family per classroom, but in some cases the room is partitioned with a hanging blanket and two families will live together.
Jesuit Refugee Service learned about the shelter in January and provides food baskets, mattresses, blankets, small stoves and hygiene kits. However there is an urgent need to improve the living conditions in the shelter, provide regular electricity, medical care for chronic illnesses and to ensure that the hundreds of children living in the shelter receive educational support.
Abu Feras*, a man living in the shelter who has lost his 15 year old son, spoke about his personal ordeal. With his children seated around him, he explained the heartbreaking story of his eldest son’s death as a result of cross-fire; his funeral and the fear that followed the family as they fled to Lebanon in order to protect their other children.
Overcome with emotion, his tears flowed unchecked as he said his only wish for the future is to take his children back to their home, and to watch them grow up safely and in peace.
"The parents of Syrian families did the only thing they could to protect their children — they escaped the violence. It's up to us to now support them and secure their children's future through providing education," said Fr Peter Balleis S.J., International Director of JRS, during a recent trip to Lebanon.
JRS Lebanon is rolling out an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP) in areas where we work. The ALP is designed to help Syrian students learn French, English, Math and other subjects, so they can enter the Lebanese public school system in the new academic year.
The situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is dire. The UNHCR officially registered number is more than 400,000 refugees, but the government estimates nearly one million Syrians are in the country.
JRS is working in five locations in Lebanon, offering support to Syrians where no other NGOs are operating. You can support the work of JRS in Lebanon by clicking here.
*Names changed for security reasons
by Zerene Haddad
JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer