Syrian refugee pupils having their first lessons in their new school building in Lebanon.
Despite the challenges of 2020, there were answered prayers for refugees in northern Lebanon.
Local partners Emil and Reem Bourizk didn’t plan for their home to become a school for over 100 refugee children. But they were open to God’s leading: “Returning to Lebanon in 2014 after time abroad, we found our house was surrounded by Syrian families living in tents, with nobody to care for them. We felt a call to help them.”
“She just wants to draw”
Reem explains, “We started a school because I found kids in the fields and people treating them like trash. This is not fair. They are human beings. I wanted to sit with them and talk to them and show them how much God loves them. I visited one family and asked the oldest sister, who was 10, ‘If someone were to bring you something, what would you ask them to bring?’ She said, ‘I only need a pencil and paper to draw.’
“I went home and said, ‘All she needs is paper and a pencil. She didn’t say I need clothes and all these things. She just wants to draw.’ And this is how the school started, under the trees. We bought materials and I collected the kids, told them stories, talked to them, taught them some letters. The kids are traumatised. They came from a war. When they first came, they would shrink back if you came near, because they are afraid. Just to say a good word, to greet them, it’s a big thing.”
The couple began holding lessons in their home, before spilling over into their garage as more children joined. And numbers continued to grow. Now the Good Shepherd School teaches maths, Arabic, science and civics, French and English as well as arts and crafts. The school also provides pastoral care and offers home visits to support the children and their families.
Emil and Reem had a dream of space to expand and develop the school. Having closed during the spring coronavirus lockdown, they hoped to reopen in a new venue in the autumn – but there were financial and practical hurdles to overcome.
Mission partners Phil and Sylvie Good had been living in Beirut since spring 2018, providing support with administration, finance, project planning and communications to two churches working with refugees. Their passion is to demonstrate that the love of Jesus crosses all barriers through both their skills and their presence alongside those on the margins. As the spring lockdown ended, they travelled north to meet Emil and Reem and find out more about the school.
Emil and Reem’s vision caught their imagination. Having seen an unfinished house nearby with potential to become a school building for 140 children, they produced a project plan and helped with fundraising. But this wasn’t the end of the Goods’ involvement.
From inner city to olive grove
Through lockdown, more of Phil and Sylvie’s work had gone online. In addition, some doors in Beirut seemed to have closed. Phil explains, “As we were in the unfinished house praying, we realised we could live here and be involved more directly. Situated east of Tripoli, the school is close enough to Beirut to return once a week for meetings and to connect with our refugee friends. We got quite excited.” They realised they could help the school become more established and sustainable.
Phil and Sylvie identified scope to create a bedroom and small living space on the rooftop, as well as eight classrooms in the building. Phil stayed with Emil and Reem during a hectic summer of building work, getting the drains, windows and doors, bathrooms and kitchens all in working order, as well as having electricity and water connected.
Building work is now complete and Phil and Sylvie have moved from their home on the sixth floor in the slums of East Beirut to a house in the middle of an olive grove. Sylvie will work in the kindergarten and look after the accounting and Phil’s role will be in management, fundraising and facilities. Emil comments, “This new building is proof God really does move mountains and will bring hope to our community.”
The school welcomed pupils at the beginning of December, as an autumn lockdown came to an end.
“Changing the future by the grace of God”
As well as providing education, this project builds bridges between communities: the teachers and local villagers, who are Maronite Christians, and the children and their parents, who are Sunni Muslim and mostly from Syria.
Emil explains the school’s impact: “We are showing love, respect. And telling them clearly this is from the Lord. They don’t look at Christians as enemies anymore. They don’t look at Lebanese as enemies any more. Lebanese and Syrians have been enemies since the [Lebanese] civil war in 1975. To have a Lebanese person in his homeland accepting a Syrian and treating them equal, that’s a real miracle. One head of tribe told me, ‘You are growing a seed, one day it will flourish.’ We are changing the future by the grace of God.”
Lebanon has not had many good news stories in 2020, but Phil and Sylvie said, “This has been a great project: while the country has been falling apart, we have been building something new. We pray that this will be a great witness to God’s glory.”
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