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Alsama Refugee School Brings Light Back into the Classroom (Literally)

By Emma Chittleburgh
Alsama Refugee School Brings Light Back into the Classroom (Literally)

Solar panels on the roof of Alsama Centre, Shatila (Photo is the property of Alsama Project) 

Alsama is an educational charity supporting 500 bottom-of-the-pyramid Syrian refugee teenagers in Lebanon. Alsama’s Education Institute is based in the Shatila refugee camp. Founded for Palestinian refugees in 1948, and synonymous with the massacre in 1982, Shatila has more recently become known as the home of Syrian families fleeing the war. 

On 13 September, Alsama’s Education Institute opened its doors to 193 teenagers after a four-week summer holiday. With electricity shortages in Lebanon becoming ever more frequent, we regretfully welcomed our students back into dark classrooms. Shatila is a very densely populated area with up to 40,000 people living in one square km, meaning most natural light is blocked by neighbouring buildings.

Fed up with the situation before the summer holiday, Alsama decided to turn the electricity crisis into an opportunity to problem solve. For a week in Math, English, and Arabic classes, our students discussed and researched alternative electricity sources. In Math, they calculated watts needed and funding required. In Arabic, they researched who might be willing to help. And, in English, they wrote letters to potential sponsors.

Propelled by our students drive to find a solution and their unanimous agreement on solar panels as the best alternative, Alsama began discussions over the summer holidays to bring solar panels to the institute. After the first week of school in the dark, Tuesday, 21 September marked the first full day of electricity at the institute powered by our very own solar panels on Alsama’s roof. We are thankful to global trading company Montfort who funded our solar panels.

Alsama means ‘the sky’ in Arabic. It is our mission to offer our students new horizons and empower them to achieve what they thought was impossible through education. With the rest of Beirut largely plunged into darkness for extended periods, our students’ determination to bring electricity to Alsama is a succinct illustration of our mission.

The electricity project has had a far-reaching impact: it precipitated a shift in how we think about education at Alsama. Inspired by project-based learning in Finland and beyond,

Alsama developed what we call “Collective Theme-Based Learning” (CTBL) objectives. For one full week each month, we have defined one “life problem to solve” that every grade/level and every subject will tackle. In light of the Lebanese economic crisis, one upcoming cross-curricular objective is, “What should your family do differently to minimize the impact of price inflation on your family budget?” Most of our CTBL Objectives are linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as Affordable & Clean Energy (solar powered-electricity example) and No Poverty (balanced family budget).

We are looking forward to starting our new curriculum next week and seeing the reception it receives with our students. For many of them, Alsama is the only schooling they have received in years due to the Syrian war. Around 30% of students come to us illiterate and the rest have on average three to five years of interrupted school education. It is therefore paramount that we continue providing quality education for our students. Please consider supporting Alsama at

Emma Chittleburgh is the Programme and Partnerships officer at Alsama Project

Instagram: @alsamaproject (
Facebook: @AlsamaProject (
Twitter: @AlsamaProject (

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