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.

Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

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.

Click here to read the 2019 Annual Report.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of the Annual Report.


In spring 2020, schools closed across our program countries due to COVID-19. The Luminos Fund pivoted quickly to provide distance learning for students.

Additional Resources:
The Luminos Fund 2018 Annual Report
The Luminos Fund 2017 Annual Report

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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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