During rain storms, students squeezed uncomfortably into dry corners to avoid water leaks, wind whistling over poorly constructed roofs made it hard for students to focus on their lessons, and unfiltered water caused frequent gastrointestinal illnesses, forcing many to miss school.
These were all common problems that affected vulnerable schools throughout Lebanon before International Medical Corps implemented its Child Friendly Schools (CFS) Project from June 2007 to April 2008.
International Medical Corps’ Child Friendly Schools program dramatically re-shaped 28 vulnerable schools, using a multi-sectoral approach to transform them into stimulating educational environments conducive to optimal learning and development. In partnership with Ministry of Education and UNICEF, International Medical Corps:
Structurally refurbished 22 schools
Rehabilitated over 60 school sanitation facilities providing more than 4,000 students with access to potable water
Trained over 450 school staff from 28 schools on child-friendly education, mental health, psychosocial assistance, health education, basic health, nutrition, and first aid
Trained 52 teachers from 26 schools to implement adult literacy courses and 24 teachers from 19 schools to administer remedial courses for students
Mapped available health services for 28 schools
Constructed 6 water networks in school communities enhancing access to drinking water for 38,500 individuals
We arrive at Al Abdeh Public Elementary School, in Akkar, northern Lebanon. The school is surrounded by clean, white walls bordered with International Medical Corps’ trademark blue. The school’s principal, Mr. George Farah, greets International Medical Corps representatives at the entrance of the school to discuss the positive results of the CFS program. The school has new, clean classrooms, stronger lighting, a safe play area, and a new computer lab. The school’s pipes no longer leak and additional water taps were installed as part of International Medical Corps’ rehabilitation of the water and sanitation facilities.
“The kids have really come to respect the school,” says Farah. “Whereas before the rehabilitations, attendance was scattered and the weather determined how much learning could take place each day, now coming to school is like a holiday for the kids.”
The CFS program built the capacity of teachers to create optimal learning environments through a variety of trainings on health, mental health, child-friendly education, remedial education, and literacy education. The trainings positively affected both students and the wider community. The occurrence of common diseases in the student population substantially dropped by an average of 90 percent across all of the rehabilitated schools, school staff better understood the importance of keeping parents up-to-date on their children’s health and academic progress, and teachers were equipped with skills needed to engage adult community members in literacy education.
Fatima Zahraman, a young trainer for one of International Medical Corps’ adult literacy programs, details her experience teaching eager adults to read and write. Initially, she was slightly apprehensive that many of her students were much older than her but her comfort level increased after realizing how excited her adult students were to learn the alphabet. The course created a community of adult students who were enthusiastic about the freedom and pride reading and writing could offer them.
Each day Fatima’s students brought back stories about the new experiences literacy provided them – an older student reads the prescription on his medication, an eager learner shares how she can now read the sign at the end of her road, a religious woman is finally able to study the Qu’uran. The adult literacy program fostered relationships between classmates as well as members of the community as a whole, and invited adults with minimal education to feel pride in their ability to defy expectations.
As we turn to leave the school, the warm July air whistles past. The improvements in the school are undeniable and greatly appreciated. “Before, this was a ‘so-called’ school, but International Medical Corps established Al Abdeh to fit the true meaning of the word – a place that excites children to come and learn every day,” says Farah.
The restorations of just this one school share only a glimpse of the far-reaching effects International Medical Corps’ CFS Project has on vulnerable communities across Lebanon.