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. 

Lifelong, stone-strong legacies

Lifelong, stone-strong legacies

Mubuso Zamchiya is Managing Director of the Luminos Fund

The Luminos Fund has discovered something special in “joyful learning.” That is the name we have given to our pedagogy – our approach to teaching and learning. At the core of joyful learning is the mission to help children acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Especially marginalized children, who have missed out on an education because of poverty, crisis, or discrimination. But the magic of joyful learning lies in how skills acquisition actually takes place. It’s all in the relationship.

You see, the joyful learning journey is not primarily about amassing facts and details. It is instead a process of discovery that occurs through holistic connections. By connections, I mean that joyful learning is far from an abstract exercise. It truly invites children to engage. They engage with their own hearts and minds, with their peers and learning facilitators, with their families and communities, and with the broader environment and world around them.

By holistic, I mean that joyful learning invites children to muster, master, and mobilize all their faculties as they connect and engage. They bring their consciousness, their physical presence, their attributes, and their strengths. They marshal their emotional intelligence and they harness their cognitive competencies. They draw upon their social acumen and they share the fruit of their creative flair.

When discovery is fueled by holistic connections, as children act and respond to the stimulus of relationship, joy is both inevitable and automatic. They, of course, appreciate the fun in Luminos’ Second Chance program. But their joy is the product of that special “aha” moment when they realize that the ability to learn has been inside all along. What they needed was a little help to unlock the light within them. And that is precisely what joyful learning does. It helps children make holistic connections with their intrinsic power to learn.

Syrian refugee students in the Luminos Fund’s Lebanon program

We see this in so many profound examples of learning and life at Luminos. In my opinion, most resonant among these is the way our classrooms in Lebanon use psycho-social support and art therapy to help Syrian refugee Second Chance students work through the incredible trauma of their dislocation. There is great power in the act of using one’s own creative flair to make connections between the past, the present, and the future; great freedom in finding expression for one’s thoughts and emotions. Our students do so, not only through spoken and written words, but also through the much more communicative dialogue of markers, Crayons, and paint. As a testament to their resilience, artwork by some of our Syrian refugee students was celebrated recently at Christie’s, a pinnacle platform for global art.

Elsewhere recently, there was a different-yet-connected celebration of the arts. Just this week, global newspapers announced that certain iconic statues of the Zimbabwe Bird, which had been stolen during colonialism, are now being returned home. As a person of Zimbabwean heritage, who, among other things, also writes about Zimbabwean history, this news was a source of joy for me. There is no deep comparison between the trauma experienced by Syrian children and the journey of my early childhood. However, there is some small connection in our stories. I was born in exile as my parents, members of Africa’s formidable freedom generation, worked with their peers to bring independence to Zimbabwe. I therefore have a modicum of experience – not equivalent to our students in Lebanon, but a modicum nevertheless – of what it feels like to be dislocated.

The joy I have regarding the return of the Zimbabwe Bird statues is intertwined with my appreciation for the reconciliation the gesture forges with the past. Their repatriation provides Zimbabweans some degree of closure on a historical puzzle board that still has many missing pieces. In my thankfulness, as I absorb the significance of this moment, I find myself thinking about the eleventh-century artists who chiseled, shaped, and shined formless slabs of soapstone into these magnificent sculptures. I marvel at what thoughts, plans, ideas, hopes, and aspirations they might have sought to reconcile for themselves through the expression of their incredible art. These sculptures have provided an entire nation a great gift lasting many centuries. It makes me wonder what sort of education these sculptors would have experienced as children to make their work so brilliant.

I think that is why I feel so privileged to work at the Luminos Fund. In personal terms, Luminos is a place where I can contribute to the work of reconciling Africa’s past with its future. In broader terms, Luminos is also a platform upon which I can participate in helping children across the world unlock the light of learning in their lives. I derive pride that, in joyful learning, Luminos unashamedly embraces the arts as essential connective fiber in the holistic tapestry of relational discovery. I am also glad that in some small way, Luminos is playing a part in helping our Syrian refugee children build lifelong, stone-strong legacies that – like the Zimbabwe Bird – will similarly stand the test of time.

In personal terms, Luminos is a place where I can contribute to the work of reconciling Africa’s past with its future.

Mubuso Zamchiya

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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