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American Community School Education Partnership with Burj el Barajneh

By Lucia Mock
American Community School Education Partnership with Burj el Barajneh

The American Community School at Beirut (ACS Beirut) has a longstanding partnership with the Women’s Program Association Learning Center in Burj el Barajneh, sending faculty volunteers to teach English to residents of the camp.
The partnership was established through the Community Service Office at ACS Beirut, coordinated by Ms. Hoda Shatah. For the last eight years, ACS has provided volunteer English, yoga and music lessons, donated books, clothing, food and supplies to the Learning Center, in addition to hosting children from Learning Center programs in sports activities at ACS Beirut.
Over the past two years, this partnership has expanded. ACS Beirut teachers Lucia Mock and Katie Jones are serving as advisors of the Children’s Education Program established by the Learning Center to serve Syrian refugee children living in Burj el Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.
The Situation in Lebanon
Of the 489,000 Syrian children now residing in Lebanon, the UN estimates 75% are unable to access educational services (UNHCR Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Quarterly Snapshot, January-March 2015). Those that are able to enroll in school often face challenges in adjusting to their new environment as a result of the traumatic experiences they and their families have faced fleeing from Syria’s brutal civil war.
Having witnessed the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on Syrian and Palestinian children, the Women’s Program Association, in partnership with ACS, established the Children’s Education Program (CEP), an informal school serving residents of Burj el Barajneh.
The Children’s Education Program serves Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian children who have fled the ongoing violence in Syria and who are otherwise unable to enroll in school. The UN and other international organizations have stated that Syrian refugees face an unprecedented mental health crisis. The CEP is founded on the philosophy that in order for students to be prepared to learn and succeed in school, their mental health must be addressed within the school setting and surrounding community.
Since its inception in October 2014, the CEP has served 70 children ages 5-13. Daily activities include English and Arabic classes, sports, trips to beaches and parks, and children’s rights awareness sessions. This year, the CEP aims to expand its programming to serve 100 children, include more rigorous academic coursework, and to establish a wrap-around services framework that addresses the social-emotional development of the students and families, as well as developing a network of community organizations to assist families and children in need.
By including an innovative service framework that addresses the social-emotional needs of students and their families, the CEP aims to promote the academic, social, and emotional potential of its students.
The American Community School at Beirut plans to continue its advisory role by providing teacher training in areas of trauma sensitivity, literacy, and curriculum development, as well as helping the staff formalize its wraparound services team. ACS Beirut teachers will hold collaborative workshops with the CEP teachers to promote positive classroom management as well as helping to develop a more comprehensive curriculum, while Ms. Jones and Ms. Mock will continue their efforts in advising and helping to build a wrap-around service team.
The Project
ACS Beirut is also helping to fund part of the CEP program through fundraising efforts led by student volunteers. These ACS Beirut students, who also teach English to children at the CEP every Saturday, are working this year to raise money for the rent of a new building to house the CEP as it expands. Seniors Lama Jaber Azzam, Tracy Jawad, Zina Juma and sophomore Bylasan Ahmad are leading this effort. This core group of students will also be designing curriculum and lesson plans for their English classes, with the guidance of ACS Beirut teachers, and will be leading their own classes throughout the year.
Volunteering at Burj el Barajneh has been transformational for many ACS Beirut students. Dani Mohamad, a 2015 graduate of ACS Beirut, shared that, “My experience in working at Burj granted me a second family and the honor of meeting some of the strongest women out there.” Senior Lama Jaber Azzam stated that, “Going to the camp each week has changed the way I see things. Seeing the kids, and their family and all the motivation they have towards working and improving their life, is what made me invest myself in this project.”
Tracy Jawad, another ACS Beirut senior and student volunteer added, “These children are not faceless statistics, they are not a mindless donation, they are not a lost generation-- they are children.”

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