Starting school again in Shatila camp

25 September 2019, 15:51

Thanks to our “School for @ll” campaign, and the generosity of all those who made donations, 57 Syrian and Palestinian refugee boys and girls in Lebanon will start attending special classes to ensure they don’t drop out of school completely. One of these is Aya, who we met on a recent mission to Lebanon.


There was heavy rain in Beirut the day we met Aya. She was sitting nervously on a chair in the office of the Assomoud Centre in the Shatila refugee camp. She was huddled over and her feet didn’t quite reach the floor. She was extremely shy but greeted us with a very sweet smile.

The Centre’s coordinator had already told her that she would be starting special lessons from September and that the teachers would take care of her and help her study and do her homework.

She coyly greeted us in English and told us that English is her favourite subject.

When it stopped raining, we left the Assamoud Centre as Aya wanted to show us round her home – the Shatila camp. We followed as Aya led the way.

Every now and then she would turn round to give us a reassuring smile before striding on through the labyrinth of endless alleys she knew so well. It had stopped raining but water was still dripping down from gutters, electric cables and washing lines.

In these narrow alleys, where you have to walk in single file, we encountered abandoned scooters, children and teenagers zipping around on scooters carrying tanks of drinking water, and a scrawny kitten covered in mud. A busy and chaotic slice of life through which Aya calmly and serenely glides.

At the end of the alleys we come to a street full of shops, wide enough for a car to drive through, although instead of cars there are mainly small vans or three-wheelers with trailers. There is always somebody transporting something around here.

The scooters mostly transport blue tanks containing drinking water, including to Aya’s house. When we finally got there, Aya’s mother was taking care of her newborn baby sister, who Aya immediately took in her arms while her mother welcomed us. They live in two rooms in a three-floor building with no windows.

It is still referred to as a refugee camp even though the tents have been replaced by cement buildings of up to 9 floors. Lebanese law states that the camp can only be extended vertically to host the population of Shatila camp, which has doubled in size since the start of the Syrian conflict.

In Lebanon, there are half a million child refugees, half of whom do not go to school.

Even though Palestinian refugees have been living in Lebanon since 1948, the children still do not have the same rights as their Lebanese peers. And the situation has been aggravated by the arrival of more than a million people fleeing Syria over the past 8 years. The problem is mainly amongst adolescents, with only 1 in every 4 enrolled at school.

Aya’s favourite subjects are English and Arabic. She enjoys studying, as she tells us in front of her mother as if taking an oath. The first time we met her she told us she didn’t like the camp because “there are so many problems”.

When school starts again, she will attend special lessons for the whole academic year, thanks to Un Ponte Per campaign  ‘School for @ll’.

She will be able to learn more with the dedicated support of a teacher to help her and encourage here when necessary. Because it is easy to lose your way in the narrow alleys where she lives.

And school is the ideal place for her to find refuge and explore her talents to build a better future.

Good luck Aya!