Ian Fraser, our former minister in 2016-17 recently visited our partners in Minyara, Lebanon. Here is a report from that visit:

Monitoring Trip to Minyara, Lebanon

On Friday, June 22, 2018, I was able to travel to Minyara in order to see the work being carried out by the Minyara Church of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) and supported by St. Andrew’s United Church, Halifax. Glynis Williams, Executive Secretary for International Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and I drove from Beirut, arriving about 10h00 and staying through until 15h00. We were met by the Rev. Hadi Ghantous and his wife, Anna, who were our hosts for the day.

School

The timing was good as the children in the school programme, established for Syrian refugee families, were enjoying a day of fun activities. Their school year finishes this week and as part of the programme, given the difficult hardships in which most of the children live, time is given to encouraging play. Hadi had managed to procure a blow-up slide and bouncy activity centre and we watched as the children took turns. Clearly they were enjoying themselves!

At the end of the day they were given boxes of gifts supplied by Samaritan’s Purse. These are carefully monitored to ensure that inappropriate gifts (such as objects overtly Christian being offered to Muslim families) are taken out.

 

I also visited the school that has been set up in three garage bays. The new director of the school, Rani Saoud, gave us a tour of the facilities (which are much larger and more appealing than the school we had seen the day before in a Beirut Palestinian refugee camp!) and spoke about the successes and challenges of offering schooling to Syrian refugee children. Rani is a retired teacher, married to Ronalda, who was part of the team from Minyara who visited Halifax last year.

A few of the things I learned:

  • I believe around 70-80 children, ages 4 to 11, are looked after in the programme

    (although I didn’t have a chance to write down the exact number at the time)

  • They are divided into 3 classes. There is a teacher for each class and a fourth who

    rotates to teach English.

  • The children come from refugee camps nearby. The largest settlement, of more than

    100 tents, was taken down by Lebanese authorities when violence erupted within the camp. Now groupings of 2 to 5 tents are spread out in the countryside. The camps are very rudimentary – large tents, outdoor toilets supplied by the UN, water and power sources not secure.

  • Some adults find work in nearby fields as this is an agricultural area. It is the poorest area of Lebanon. Because the Syrian workers are often willing to work for less, there is resentment among Lebanese who are being displaced.

June 22, 2018

  • Children are picked up and dropped off by van. Classes last until noon. It sounds as if there is an eagerness among the refugee families to have their children attend school as otherwise there would likely be none.
  • Subjects include Arabic, math, science, English and life skills. Life skills include teaching basic sanitation, discipline, respect for others, etc. There appears to be little support or help at home, therefore these are important for the child’s development.
  • Play time is also part of the weekly routine.
  • Apparently some UN schooling is also available with families being paid a small amount

    to bring their children to the schools. In spite of this, some families prefer the Church school because they find the education to be superior and care for the children to be higher.

  • NESSL provides some funding, while overseas partners like St. Andrew’s also contribute.

    I was impressed by the quality of what is being done. The facilities, ability of the teachers, plan for education are well thought through. Hadi and Rani both impressed upon me that the aspect that most set their school apart was their focus on loving the children, treating them with respect, letting them know that they are important in the eyes of God. They go out of the way to help, take account of those with learning difficulties, and care of the whole child. I believe they said that they follow the Syrian curriculum except that they add English language, something that clearly sets Lebanese education apart and prepares children better for a world beyond their borders.

    Health Centre

    After seeing the school, Hadi showed me around the health centre. The facility is well used and is one of the few available to non-Lebanese families.

    I learned:

    • The centre is open from 15h00 to 19h00 every day. There is a nurse always present and

      most days a physician. Physicians rotate rather than relying on one. There is a waiting

      room as well as an examining room with basic equipment.

    • There is also a dental office, open 2-3 days per week. This may be new since your last

      visit as I don’t recall any mention of it before. It is well equipped and fills an important

      need.

    • The main cost is medications which runs $3000-$4000 per month. There is no cheap

      source of drugs – Syria produces many of their own medications but these are not available for export. Given the ongoing conflict, Hadi is suspicious of the quality of the drugs anyway.

    • I did not enquire about what diseases, conditions, etc. are the most common.
    • While NESSL helps with the cost of the school, they do not subsidize the clinic,

      therefore overseas church partners are crucial. St. Andrew’s is very important

      contributor along with churches in Germany and Denmark.

    • Unfortunately we had to leave Minyara before the clinic opened in order to return to

      Beirut. I would have liked to see it in operation to ascertain the level of use but my

guess is that it is a very important facility to maintain the health of the refugee population.

Other Comments

The situation is Syria is apparently stabilizing in many areas of the country. We learned from various conversations that some refugees are returning home when they believe they will again be safe. The Lebanese government is naturally anxious to see this happen in order to relieve the pressure that is being put on the infrastructure from such a tremendous influx. They have insisted that UNHCR encourage a return rather than supporting families to stay in Lebanon.

However, Hadi is not sure that will be the case for the families whom they are helping. Many were very poor in Syria and may actually be better off in Lebanon. One of the ironic twists of relief and development aid is that it can cause a dependency that is difficult to break. Some of the U.N. support work may be in this category.

Refugees have no real rights in Lebanon – no right to attend school, receive health care, obtain work permits, become recognized permanent residents. It means the work in places like Minyara will continue for some time. I am impressed with the commitment of people in the Minyara community to respond to the needs around them. I met several of the teachers and volunteers who work with the children and in the health centre. They are doing their best to offer care and love to those who have fled war.

During the week, we also met with Joseph Kessab who is General Secretary of NESSL. He pointed out that the Syrian conflict and mass movement of people has created a new opportunity for several of the churches in both Lebanon and Syria. It has forced them to examine their conscience and realize that the call that Christ is making upon them is to leave the security of simply ministering to their own people and to reach out in new ways. Education has always been a cornerstone of the Synod’s mission in the Middle East. Now they are redefining what it means to offer that to those who are in many ways unlike them: Muslim, uneducated, unsettled, afraid, poor, with different value systems – and through it to be agents of compassion, love, justice and peace.

Respectfully submitted, Ian Fraser June 26, 2018