Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

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 additional Luminos 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.” 

Amal, Luminos teacher

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Lebanon program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Chris Trinh

World Refugee Day: The Dedication of Teachers

World Refugee Day: The Dedication of Teachers

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.

Learn more about our Lebanon program here.

More than a Classroom

More than a Classroom

By: Angie Thadani

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

Syrian refugees live in Lebanon

The last three years of economic crisis, compounded by COVID-19, the 2020 Beirut Port explosions, and political instability has pushed over 80% of the population into poverty, with disproportionate consequences for Syrian refugees. Lebanon, home to the largest number of refugees per capita, hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees. The UN estimates that nine out of ten Syrian refugees are living in extreme 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.

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!

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. 

Batoul: A Syrian Refugee Reaches Brighter Days After Unimaginable Hardship

Batoul: A Syrian Refugee Reaches Brighter Days After Unimaginable Hardship

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.

Mignot with her mother, Alemitu.

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.

Mesfin Yacob, Sodo Zuria Woreda School Improvement and Supervision Directorate Team Leader.

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

Mignot with her mother, Alemitu.

Students in Batoul’s class practice placing nouns into categories.

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2021 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Lebanon program, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Chris Trinh

New Year, Same Mission, Greater Urgency

New Year, Same Mission, Greater Urgency

After a long, dark year, 2021 promises hope, joy, and possibility—the chance to start imagining the world both as what it used to be and what it can become. When the Luminos team gathered virtually for the first time this year, CEO Caitlin Baron asked everyone to share one reflection or insight from 2020 that we wanted to carry forward in 2021. Team members shared diverse reflections, including the joy of reconnecting with old friends and building deeper relationships with our colleagues around the world thanks to video platforms and texting apps.

Nikita Khosla, our Senior Director of Programs, noted that even with all its challenges, 2020 enabled us to support our Luminos students and their families more deeply and holistically. When stay-at-home orders rolled out in the communities we serve, Luminos stayed close every step of the way to understand the impacts of this new reality: lower incomes, less food, and psychological strain in addition to the COVID-19 health crisis. How would our programs in Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia adapt to better serve their needs while remaining true to our mission of unlocking the light of learning in all children? As Liberia Program Manager, Abba Karnga Jr., reflected, this year strengthened Luminos’ ability to adapt rapidly in changing contexts. Thanks to our Liberian team’s innovation and generous, flexible support from our supporters, we were able to assist communities with sanitizing stations and emergency food relief, in addition to providing distance learning.

Yet throughout this period of emergency response, the future of the children we serve loomed heavy in our minds. Education is critical to ensuring today’s children are prepared and empowered for the future. Learning to read unlocks the door to progression through education and on to achieving their full potential. For every extra year of schooling, there is a 9% increase in an individual’s hourly earnings. Yet for every three months out of school, children can lose up to a year of learning. And according to a recent World Bank report, COVID-related school closures risk pushing an additional 72 million primary school children into “learning poverty”—being unable to read and comprehend a simple text by age 10—exacerbating a learning crisis that existed long before COVID-19. At Luminos, our mission to ensure children everywhere get the chance to experience joyful learning is now more urgent than ever before, and we have the tools to help.

For every three months out of school,

children can lose up to a year of learning

Andrabi et al., 2020

As Michelle Kaffenberger of the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme noted to CNN recently, “The crisis doesn’t end when schools reopen. The crisis is going to keep going, if adequate remediation is not taken when children come back.” As schools reopen, it is critical that educators meet children where they are. In our Second Chance classrooms, this means continually assessing students to ensure everyone is progressing and providing extra support to those who are struggling. For example, in Liberia, in addition to twice-weekly hour-long sessions where teachers help students who are struggling, we are also holding short weekend classes to help students keep up with the curriculum in this uniquely shortened 2020-21 school year. Our focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills ensures that students have the foundation to thrive in the future. Critically, our program teaches students how to learn, a skill that can be applied both in their continuing education and throughout their lives.

As we look to the year ahead with a sense of hope and optimism, our students remind us that they are eager to learn. Before our Second Chance classrooms reopened earlier this month, a Liberian student named Charles told us, “School is preparing me for tomorrow. I love this school because they are helping me be good for tomorrow.” Our students have hopes and dreams for incredibly bright tomorrows. In a recent Luminos survey, over 35% of Second Chance students in Liberia dreamed of going into a medical profession to help those around them. Others dreamed of becoming president and holding public office, traveling the world, or becoming business professionals. We can’t wait to see what they do.

The Luminos team together virtually as 2020 came to a close.

As our Communications Director, Maretta Silverman, noted in our team’s round-robin reflection, 2020 reminded us how important it is to show others what they mean to us and how much we care, through new ways and old. So, as we head into 2021, we at Luminos would like to thank you—our supporters, partners, advisors, and friends—for joining us on this journey. When we envision what could be, we see a world where children everywhere experience joyful learning, and no child is ever denied the chance to learn. Let’s get to work.

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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