Joyful, bright-eyed, and brimming with hope for the future. These are just a few words that describe 9-year-old Yousef.
Despite having to overcome several challenges at a young age, his optimism shines brightly. Yousef was an infant when his family fled their home in Syria and settled in Lebanon. As he grew, his education was postponed because his parents could not afford to enroll him in school. Despite these obstacles, this aspiring pilot continues to dream big.
In Lebanon, Luminos works closely with two community-based organizations, reaching more than 7,000 children like Yousef to date — providing a safe, welcoming environment where students can catch up on foundational skills and develop their full potential.
After successfully completing the Luminos catch-up program, Yousef transitioned into public school to continue his education.
“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society.”
Yousef, Luminos alum
“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society,” Yousef says. “I want to reach university level and get a degree in aviation.”
Yousef with his mother, Watfa.(Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
But Yousef’s path to lifelong learning — and aviation — is not an easy one. As a result of teacher protests over salaries, public schools in Lebanon have faced significant disruptions and closures. The country has endured a series of ongoing social, economic, political, and health crises in the past few years, which have created a dire situation for children, especially the Syrian refugee children Luminos serves. Due to a nationwide economic crisis, prices of basic goods have skyrocketed, and many families have limited access to electricity, which substantially restricts the delivery of basic services.
“Life has become hard and complicated,” says Yousef’s mother, Watfa. “The electricity and many other problems made Yousef feel sad. I am worried about everything, especially not being able to afford my children’s basic necessities.”
Today, through an additionalLuminos program, Yousef is receiving homework support for math and English (English is one of the two standard languages of instruction in Lebanon). His motivation for learning grows more and more each day.
“I love my classmates and my teachers,” says Yousef. “After classes, I usually revise my lessons and then I get ready to go to the public school in the afternoon schedule.”
Colorful posters and letters of the alphabet decorate classrooms in Lebanon. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
According to his teacher, Amal, Yousef has shown significant improvements and is thriving as a self-confident, intrinsic learner.
“Yousef usually interacts with the pictures shown in stories and connects them with his surroundings. He has proved to be an independent learner. He answers and solves the questions individually,” says Amal.
By providing a safe and nurturing space to learn, Luminos programs help mitigate the devastating impact of compounded crises and school closures.
Beyond learning, our classrooms offer a sense of stability and hope — not only for our students, but their teachers and parents, too.
“Hope has motivated us to curb pessimism. This hope is reflected in the students’ faces. When we see the learners’ diligence and interest in discovering knowledge, our confidence in the coming days is boosted.”
Teacher Abir in front of her classroom in Lebanon. (Photo credit: Chris Trinh)
In the Middle East, Lebanon hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees, including 660,000 school-aged children. Having fled a long and brutal civil war in their homeland, Syrian refugees are seeking safety and stability for their families. However, life in Lebanon has been far from easy. The country has faced a series of crises, spanning from the economy to politics and beyond. These challenges have not only impacted the daily lives of the Syrian refugee children whom the Luminos Fund serves in Lebanon, but also their teachers.
Luminos teachers are the driving force in our classrooms, playing a vital role in helping Luminos reach over 7,000 Syrian refugee children and equip them with essential reading, writing, math, and socio-emotional skills. Every day, these teachers demonstrate unparalleled resilience and determination as they unlock the light of learning in their students.
In classrooms that are brimming with joy and excitement, teachers work passionately to ensure that children acquire the fundamental building blocks of learning. They provide students with the necessary tools to continue on the path to lifelong learning by instilling basic academic skills and the core foundations of positive psychosocial well-being.
Syrian refugee students in Lebanon complete a group assignment.
Teachers like Taghreed intentionally create an atmosphere of care, knowing every student by name, checking up on their well-being, and fostering a safe, supportive environment where kids can be kids.
“They want to learn!” says Taghreed. “They are very dedicated.”
Taghreed goes above and beyond, making herself available to her students at all times of day through WhatsApp, answering homework questions, explaining assignments, and more.
Luminos teachers recognize that they are not only preparing students to succeed in future learning, but also to make positive contributions to society—and that starts with the learning environment cultivated in the classroom.
As you walk into a Luminos classroom in Lebanon, colorful posters cover the walls, displaying the letters of the alphabet, the names of feelings, as well as heaps of student artwork. Seated in pairs at their desks, students actively participate in vibrant lessons on various topics, including their right to education. The children eagerly raise their hands to demonstrate their understanding, while teachers are equally enthusiastic about helping students internalize the lessons.
Inside a colorfully decordated Luminos classroom in Lebanon.
The teachers’ work would not be possible without the unwavering support of community-based partners who provide teachers with professional development opportunities on a regular basis.
When reflecting on Luminos teachers in Lebanon, Luminos Associate Director of Programs and Lebanon country lead, Liz Robinson, notes, “They’re just so dedicated. They genuinely want the best for their kids. There is a heartfelt sense that the teachers are so happy to be supporting the students’ learning. Teachers are most proud when their students are proud of themselves and value their own achievements, not just when students progress and grow academically.”
During a recent discussion with teachers and our community-based partners, there were numerous stories of the remarkable progress teachers have seen in their students throughout the program, including children gaining self-confidence, developing a newfound interest in learning and school, and even supporting their own parents to learn to read.
As one teacher said, this job “feeds our soul.”
One way teachers in Lebanon actively build students’ sense of self-belief is by providing daily opportunities for students to succeed in small ways every day. For example, one teacher uses WhatsApp to share and celebrate those who have done well on homework assignments. Students looks forward to receiving these messages so much, they often reach out to remind their teacher to send it.
A teacher in Lebanon leads a hopscotch-like math activity outside, allowing students to practice their counting skills and get active.
Every day, our teachers in Lebanon shine a light into the lives of the refugee students they serve. Today, on World Refugee Day, we honor their dedication and passion for improving the lives of refugee children.
In June, I travelled to Lebanon to plan for our program’s 2022-2023 school year. Being relatively new to the Luminos Fund, I was excited to visit our Lebanon classrooms for the very first time and meet with our students, teachers, and community partners. I know how impactful a classroom can be for children who have experienced war, displacement, and suffering from my time leading the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency education program in Lebanon.
In places like Lebanon, classrooms are much more than a place to learn. They can often be the only source of safety, stability, and community that children know. Since 2017, Luminos has been working with community-based organizations to support out-of-school Syrian refugee children in Lebanon —both academically and emotionally— so they can catch up to grade level in safe, welcoming classrooms and prepare to advance into Lebanese government schools.
Angie Thadani, Luminos Senior Director of Programs
In places like Lebanon, classrooms are much more than a place to learn. They can often be the only source of safety, stability, and community that children know.
Looking out from the plane window and seeing the Beirut skyline, my excitement turned to apprehension. Lebanon has come to be a second home for me, filled with special memories. I had a picture of what Lebanon was in my mind that I was anxious to preserve. Lebanon is no stranger to crisis. It has experienced over 15 years of war, occupation, and several rounds of economic and political collapse. However, to me, the country and its people have always exuded an extraordinary resilience and hope that has made Lebanon feel so special. I was nervous to see what friends had described as a “drained and changed” Lebanon.
of Lebanon's population has been pushed into poverty
I spent my first evening visiting my Syrian friend Mariam and her family. On my way to Mariam’s home, the streets seemed unfamiliar. Usually bustling with activity, neighborhoods were now eerily quiet and dark. So many of my favorite places had shut down.
Mariam shared how difficult the last few years have been for her: “I’ve never seen the situation this bad before. I do not know one person who hasn’t felt the impact of the last few years,” she sighed sadly.
The sharp devaluation of the Lebanese pound has made basic food items out of reach. Mariam has had to make hard choices about when and how to feed her family, and each day brings new unknowns. With all the challenges she faces, Mariam still describes herself as one of the lucky ones—she has been able to send her children to school.
of Syrian refugee families had to stop their children’s education in 2021
In 2021, 35% of Syrian refugee families had to stop their children’s education, and the barriers to education are only increasing. Public schools are overwhelmed and under-resourced, families can no longer afford transportation costs, and Syrian children lack the basic language, reading, and writing skills to join the education system.
As I listened to Mariam, I could not help but think about our students and the daily challenges they must also face. The next morning, I travelled to the Beqaa region to visit our classrooms. Beqaa is home to Lebanon’s largest number of registered refugees. I arrived just in time to see children pouring out of school buses, greeting their friends and teachers with smiles and giggles.
Against the backdrop of what had been a difficult evening with Mariam, entering our classrooms the next day felt like a different world. Walls were covered in colorful artwork and lessons were filled with laughter and song.
Teacher Taghreed and her students laughing. Teachers like Taghreed work hard to create joyful classrooms that serve as an oasis for Syrian refugee students, providing a safe space to learn and play. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
It was snack time when I entered one classroom, and a young boy named Ahmed greeted me excitedly in English. He offered me his seat and a bite of his sandwich, which I politely declined, before wrapping part of it up to take home for his brother and sisters. His teacher, Layal, told me that Ahmed could not communicate in English at all a year ago. Ahmed grinned proudly and showed me his exercise book filled with notes and drawings about his family and friends. On days that Ahmed is not in the classroom, he works with his father. For up to 23 hours a day, Ahmed has no electricity in his home that he shares with two other families. Against the enormous challenges that he faces daily, it struck me how thoughtful, kind, and cheerful Ahmed was.
At Luminos, our first priority is ensuring the well-being of our students. Our teachers in Lebanon have invested much of the last year rebuilding good classroom practices that children had forgotten as a result of learning remotely during the COVID-19. So many children have had to be re-taught how to listen to others, how to share and care for each other, and most importantly, how to play and be children again.
In a context like Lebanon, finding precious moments to be a carefree child can be life-changing. Before saying goodbye to Ahmed, I asked him what he wanted to be in the future. He told me he wanted to be superhero. He flexed his muscles and said, “My teacher Layal tells me I am already strong, just like superman.” It was my turn to grin. Ahmed has shown me that in our classrooms, Lebanon’s resilience and hope is still very much alive and thriving.
Ahmed has shown me that in our classrooms, Lebanon’s resilience and hope is still very much alive and thriving.
Meet some Luminos students in Lebanon!
11-year-old Moamen’s behavior transformed through the program. His mother Fatima notes that he has become more caring towards his peers and takes the time to listen patiently. When asked what his favorite subject was he said, “I enjoy learning math—particularly the addition and the multiplication.” (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
11-year-old student Ghofran gets ready to participate in an activity. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Friends Mohammed (left) and Yasser (right) sit in class. Mohammed loves learning English and his favorite part of the school day is getting to read stories. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Students complete a group exercise in class, identifying different kinds of nouns. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Student Iman in class. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Student Maher at his desk. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Colorful posters and lessons cover the walls in Luminos classrooms, including letters of the alphabet. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Students Amina (left) and Angham (right) in class. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Student Amina gets ready for a lesson in class. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)
Angie Thadani is a Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund where she oversees the design and delivery of the Luminos program in different geographies, working in close collaboration with governments and our local community partners. Angie previously served as the Programs Manager at Dubai Cares, and as the Education in Emergency Programs Manager at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). There she led the implementation of the Agency’s emergency education response to the Syrian crisis and supported the integration of Palestine refugees from Syria into UNRWA’s education system in Lebanon.
Sitting at a desk surrounded by classmates, 11-year-old Batoul treasures her paper, pencils, and books — prized possessions at this Luminos classroom in Baalbek, situated in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
One of 13 million Syrians violently displaced from their home, Batoul has yearned for a sense of normalcy and an education like other children her age.
Civil war, crisis, and displacement have severely disrupted the lives and education of the Syrian refugee children Luminos serves in Lebanon.
“She feels that the school is her second home. She trusts her teacher.”
Nawal, Batoul’s mother
Our programs support children — both academically and emotionally — so they can catch up to grade level in safe, welcoming classrooms and prepare to advance into Lebanese government schools. Classrooms are full of joy, resilience, kindness, and warmth and provide a safe space for students to explore and cultivate their potential.
Batoul practices writing the singular and plural forms of words on the board in her classroom.
“I can calculate and compute numbers quickly now,” Batoul says, beaming with pride. “Math is my favorite subject.”
“She feels that the school is her second home. She trusts her teacher,” says Batoul’s mother, Nawal.
As the sole provider for six children, Nawal has made unimaginable choices and sacrifices to meet the family’s basic needs.
“I worry about my kids the most, mainly about educating them,” explains Nawal. “After we were forced to flee our home, we faced many obstacles.”
At that time, Batoul knew only a few letters and words, and numbers one through ten. But education was merely one of their concerns, as the family experienced homelessness.
“We were homeless during the winter season,” Nawal says. “People later on helped us by offering us the basic necessities such as food and blankets. We were offered shelter and a job.”
Luminos was among those who could help provide relief. As she passed by a classroom, Nawal noticed a gathering of parents and children. Nawal approached the group to learn more about why they were there and stayed to register her daughter to enroll in a Luminos classroom.
Batoul with her mother, Nawal.
Today, all Nawal’s children are in school, and Batoul’s teacher, Noha, is proud of the progress that she has made in the classroom.
“She became studious and diligent,” says Noha. “She has overcome all the obstacles.”
Such encouragement is fuel for Batoul’s future ambitions.
“The teacher always praises me and empowers me,” says Batoul. “I would like to continue to the university level and be a doctor.”
“I can calculate and compute numbers quickly now! Math is my favorite subject.”
Batoul, Luminos student in Lebanon
Students in Batoul’s class practice placing nouns into categories.
Click here to read a PDF version of our program updates.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.
While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.
In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.
In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.
This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.
The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.
With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.