JRS Lebanon has been educating Syrian Refugee children since 2014, with its first project at Bourj Hammoud. Currently, it has reached out to many children and adults in four places: Bourj Hammoud, Bar Elias, Baalbeck and Jbeil/Byblos, mainly supporting refugee children and adults in the development of their whole-person, an essential characteristic of Jesuit education through formal and non-formal education, mental and psychosocial support, health care, legal aid etc.
I had the opportunity to learn about JRS Education in Lebanon during my tertianship experiment in January-March 2022 through my interaction with the JRS Regional and National Directors of Education, the Country Director, In charge of Psychosocial Support, Human Resource Development, and Monitoring and Evaluation as well as visiting schools in Bourj Hammoud and Bar Elias. I also had enriching interactions meeting the project directors, principals, youth club in charge, and social workers in both places. Above all, I conducted a two-day workshop for the education officers and school principals of JRS, Lebanon, along with Eric Velandria, SJ, a Jesuit Education Specialist from JRS, Rome.
The impact of JRS Education in Lebanon
I am deeply touched by the service and care rendered to the most in need by the committed JRS staff from various religious and cultural traditions. Many volunteers have become part of JRS because of its mission of engaging, accompanying and empowering refugees and migrants. JRS in Lebanon is an example of the Jesuit way of proceeding with partners in mission or Jesuit-Lay Collaboration.
Statistics on children and adult education
JRS Lebanon manages four projects catering to the educational and social/economic/psychological needs of the refugees. The following data is obtained from the JRS Lebanon Annual Report 2020.
Project Baalbeck: JRS Lebanon has provided 931 vulnerable children with access to safe, quality educational opportunities. It has enhanced the resilience of 185 refugees and improved their knowledge through access to safe spaces and adult education. It also has enhanced legal protection, increased self-protection capacities of 1580 individuals, and prevented and responded to their threats to safety, dignity and rights.
Project Bar Elias: JRS Lebanon has provided 1487 vulnerable children with access to safe, quality educational opportunities. It has enhanced the resilience of 276 refugees and improved their knowledge through access to safe spaces and adult education. It also has enhanced legal protection, increased self-protection capacities of 2187 individuals, and prevented and responded to their threats to safety, dignity and rights.
Project Bourj Hammoud, Frans van der Lugt Center: JRS Lebanon has provided 980 vulnerable children with access to safe, quality educational opportunities. It has enhanced the resilience of 246 refugees and improved their knowledge through access to safe spaces and adult education. It also has enhanced legal protection, increased self-protection capacities of 1500 individuals, and prevented and responded to thier threats to safety, dignity and rights. Various services and support systems have enhanced the resilience of 238 refugee families through accompaniment and provision of basic assistance and mental health services.
Project Jbeil (Byblos), Lebanon: JRS Lebanon has provided 318 vulnerable children with access to safe, quality educational opportunities. It also has enhanced legal protection, increased self-protection capacities of 640 individuals, and prevented and responded to their threats to safety, dignity and rights. Various services and support systems have enhanced the resilience of 312 refugee families through accompaniment and provision of basic assistance and mental health services.
Challenges and opportunities
Opportunities: JRS Lebanon, with the support of able leadership and a team of staff and volunteers, is fulfiling the mission of the Jesuit Refugee Service, i.e. serving the most in need in a broken world, trying to build the kingdom of God of care, compassion and love. It carries out two important Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus: Walking with the poor and marginalized and, secondly, accompanying the youth in a hope-filled future. Much networking and collaboration is going on between JRS and many organizations and benefactors who desire to see a world of peace and care.
Challenges: JRS Lebanon, with limited resources, is able to reach out to so many Syrian refugees and local Lebanese. All its projects depend on resources from funding agencies, organizations and donors. Recent developments have adversely affected funding, especially the COVID pandemic and the Ukraine war. With great difficulties, JRS Lebanon has continued its mission of serving and educating the refugees during COVID times. The war in Ukraine has diverted many funding agencies to support the fleeing Ukrainians from their country due to the attack by Russia. Economic crises and conflict between Lebanese and Syrians, due to a long history of war and conflict with Syria, make the humanitarian and educational work of JRS complex and challenging.
The workshop on Jesuit/JRS Education
In my meeting with the Regional and National Directors of JRS Education, I came to know that the education officers and principals were not exposed to the worldview of Jesuit education, even though they are practically promoting Jesuit education. Hence, it was a huge challenge for me to introduce the essential dimensions of Jesuit education to participants from the Islamic religious and cultural world. JRS, as an NGO, does not speak about faith or God, but I felt that our faith experience is fundamental to Jesuit education. I had a few meetings with the regional and national directors of education about the schedule and content of the two-day workshop. I sent some documents in advance to the participants, especially the infographic on holistic Jesuit education and a chapter of my doctoral dissertation on Jesuit education. The country director of education also prepared the participants for what would come as they were mostly looking for technical and managerial ways of running JRS schools. I envisioned a two-day program that can help the participants reflect deeply and prayerfully on their educational mission in JRS Lebanon and link the essential aspects of those experiences with the characteristics of Jesuit education.
As we began the program, I explained to the participants clearly the purpose, objectives and outcomes of the program. In the opening video message, the JRS Director, Fr. Tom Smolich SJ, invited the participants to look into the spiritual, humanistic and pedagogical dimensions of Jesuit education leading to human and societal transformation. Fr. Tom’s message helped them open their worldview to the more significant perspectives of Jesuit education. We had a prayer song in Arabic, acceptable for both Muslims and Christians, invoking God’s blessings upon the workshop and the JRS educational mission.
As the day progressed, I was amazed by their desire and curiosity to learn more about Jesuit education, even though it was difficult for them to understand many keywords of Jesuit education. I ended the day with the Ignatian Examen, a precious and powerful spiritual and educational practice. The participants were deeply moved by this prayer exercise.
In the course of two days, the participants worked in groups to discuss and present the significant aspects of Jesuit education and connect those learning with their educational practices. In the end, Fr. Eric Velandria SJ led them in a strategic planning session to develop concrete action plans for their schools.