Syrian refugees and educational challenges: Experiences from Lebanon - Seminar with Dr Fadi Al Halabi

Dr Al Halabi practised as a neurosurgeon and M.D. in Damascus before the Syrian crisis.  He subsequently founded and is now General Director of MAPs (Multi Aid Programs), an NGO working with the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon.

MAPs is committed to working with and through the Syrian community to support them in dignity both in their time in Lebanon and in preparing for the future.  Fully committed to the concept of Syrians helping themselves, Dr Fadi leads a team of more than 350 trained and qualified Syrian personnel to deliver programs in Education, Health Care and other areas of Humanitarian Relief.

The protracted crisis in Syria has seen an estimated 1.5 million refugees enter the territory of Lebanon.  According to UNHCR, around 480,000 of these refugees are children aged between 3 and 18 (UNHCR).  These are objectively very large numbers, but in the context of the population of Lebanon, they represent an increase of around 25%, a dramatic shift in that country’s demographics.  Such an influx has inevitably had a major impact on the infrastructure and resources of the country, whose public education provision was already seen as in a poor state (Jones and Ksaifi, 2016; UNICEF, 2015).  The bulk of the educational provision has been through implementation of ‘second shifts’ in around 260 public schools, alongside programs in Accelerated Learning and Basic Literacy/Numeracy and non formal provision.  In spite of these endeavours, an estimated 280,000 children remain out of school (UNHCR).

The vision of Dr Fadi and MAPs is to provide quality education for Syrian children who would otherwise not be engaged in learning, not only to meet their needs now but to begin to prepare them for life and Lebanon and to play as full a part as possible in rebuilding Syria in the years to come.

Through its nine modular teaching centers based in the camps, MAPs now provides education for more than 3,500 refugee children from KG to Grade 6, alongside a vocational training center for adolescents and young adults. Its Health Care programme treats more than 13,000 patients per month throughout the country, including the first initiative for screening for breast cancer among refugee women.

Determined to shatter some of the stereotypes of refugees, Dr Fadi initiated a number of highly successful projects designed to allow the children to demonstrate their innovation and creativity.  For example, coding and design are popular courses, and teams in robotics and programming (such as the #Hope-of-Syria-team) have successfully competed at national and international levels.

Additionally, Dr Fadi worked for 2 years as Medical Consultant and Coordinator to the Qatar Red Crescent in Beirut; he serves as an expert member of the National Agenda for the Future of Syria Panel, one of the UN ESCWA projects, and is regularly invited to share his expertise with organisations such as the UK’s Department for International Development, Harvard University and University College London.