Many of you will already be familiar with the work of my “sort of” brother in law (my brother is married to his sister) Fr William Stuart who has set up and runs the charity Schools for Syria. They are trying to ensure that, where possible, young Syrian refugees can keep up some level of education. William is currently based in the Lebanon doing this great work, so for my part I have offered to help raise awareness and much needed funds. The rent William is paying for the school is €1000 per month. A part time Social Worker is €10k a year and a sports or drama teacher comes in at €8200 PA. Two text books for a foundation English Course run to €45 per pupil. As you can see all of this adds up so we really could do with all the support you can give regardless of how small. All funds raised will be spent directly in the set up and running of the school. Other than the Go Fund Me charges, we have no administration fees.
Below is William’s story and a great read.
My work with Syrian refugees
How I got involved.
William Stuart i.c.
My first trip to Syria was in 2003 and right from the start I was hooked. There was so much to see, so much to engage with. Four examples from this amazing country. In the north there is the ruins of the town of Ugrit where the alphabet began, in the south there is Damascus the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. To the east is the area of the ancient Mesopotamia and Babylon while right down the west coast are the castles from the Crusader period. People often ask what the Middle East is like and the only way I can come close to describing it is to say it’s like when you go diving or snorkelling for the first time. It’s then you realise you’ve only seen half the world. The other half is below the water, it has its only sights and sounds but completely different to the world above the water. That’s what the Middle is like to me. By the time the war began in 2011 I had picked up the basics of the language and had travelled throughout the country, I also had a sympathy and an understanding for the Syrian people and their culture. I was very keen to help but didn’t know quite what to do. My opportunity came in January 2013 when I was invited to participate in a fact-finding tour of the refugee situation in neighbouring Lebanon with a view to setting up an organisation around conflict management, peace and reconciliation. I was reluctant to go as I felt this was not my skill set but following some persuasion I went along. The turning point for me was on the fourth day when just after 9am we were in a village in the North of the country and I came across a simple scene that has changed by life. The scene was of about 20 to 30 kids sitting on a mound, all refugees aged between five and seven. They were being taught a simple song about an ant and an elephant by a young woman, a teacher and herself a refugee. The ant asks the elephant for a lift to the well and the elephant agrees on condition that the ant will give it a lift back, there were lots of action to go with it and the children were happy.In my naivete I asked what was going on and when I was told it was a way of containing the kids for an hour or two I asked why they were not in school. Because there is no space was they reply. This was the beginning of 2013 and the number of refugees from across the border into Lebanon was 150 thousand that number was to hit 2.5 million within two years, little wonder that there was no space. But as I looked at this scene I began a conversation in my head, could I help these kids and if so how? I had been in education all my adult life, I knew how it worked at least better than conflict management. On my return home I began a small organisation called Schools for Syria, the aim of which was to provide funding for the education of kids displaced by the war into Lebanon. A few band nights and coffee mornings later I was back again in Lebanon complete with a fist full of Euro and back to the small village where I had encountered those kids. Firstly I rented a large ramshackle of a building that could house two classes and two teachers for the coming months or until the money ran out. The building was way too big but is was all there was and it was cheap. Having located two primary teachers from Syria the next task was to let it be known that we would enrol 40 kids into two classes beginning the following day. On the following morning I arrived to help with the enrolment process to find not 40 but 560 kids. They were aged between 4 and 16 and all wanted to learn. What to do? The situation was chaotic, choices had to be made. I decided that it was best to stick to Plan A, enrol the 5 to 7 year olds in two classes, take 50 not 40 and let the remaining kids go home. As the teachers began to take details I changed my mind, I had a better plan, “Let’s take them all” I announced. Put them where? Who will teach them? Where’s the money? These were among the many practical objections to my “better plan”. The truth was I didn’t know what to do but what I did know was that if I didn’t help there was no one else to help and kids would get nothing. I was also thinking that if I stuck to Plan A and stayed with the two classes and two teachers it would have been easy to raise the money to keep with project afloat. If we took all 560 kids then it put me under enormous pressure and that I concluded was no bad thing. And so it began, three sessions of two hours of school per day for a lot of kids. It was education with a small “s” as we could only offer three subjects on the curriculum and even that was limited. But it was better to do something than to do nothing. It was a drop in a very large ocean but better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.I have had similar experiences in the past five years, all different in their own way but similar in that you can only make the smallest of differences.Now I am beginning again in Tyre in the south of Lebanon. It is a project for the poorest of children from everywhere aged between 8 and 17. Kids from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Sub Saharan Africa, South East Asia. Lebanon is a melting pot for the displaced and the exploited. I need financial help to rent a building, basic equipment like chairs and desks. I need a social worker, a dance and Drama teacher, support for someone to teach sports skills. This is to name the most basic requirements. If you can help in even the smallest of ways it would be so much appreciated. Everything you give will go directly into the project, there are no administrative fees. The advantage of being a small organisation is that overheads are kept at the most basic minimum. In advance can I say thanks for your help and your support.Yours William StuartTyre, Lebanon.