Mobile schools serve Syrian students in Lebanon

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut


Volunteers with the Kayany Foundation in Lebanon's Bar Elias put together a mobile and scalable school based on the Ghata model, which uses strong low-cost building materials that are resistant to extreme weather conditions. [Photo courtesy of Kayany Foundation]

Since its inception in 2013, the Ghata project has brought education to 5,000 Syrian refugees in informal settlements in Lebanon by providing portable, scalable schools that are easy and inexpensive to construct.

Developed by the Centre for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the project has opened classrooms in a number of informal camps in Lebanon.

Classroom units, which can be moved or expanded as needed, are used to provide non-formal education to Syrian refugees between the ages of 4 and 18.

The Ghata project is one of 12 finalists for the Qatar Foundation's 2018 WISE Awards, selected from among 413 projects competing for the education award.


The Ghata mobile schools are equipped with a meeting room and a computer lab, as shown in this photo from a mobile school erected by Kayany Foundation near the camp of Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley. [Photo courtesy of Kayany Foundation]

The six winning projects will be announced in mid-July.

According to CCECS director Rabih Shibli, Ghata's architect and developer, the project aims to build sustainable, scalable, portable units that can be used to provide education to refugees in the camps.

"The aim of this project is to provide non-formal education to Syrian refugee students in Lebanon who have difficulty accessing formal schools," he said.

The goal is to "provide a healthy environment that preserves their dignity, ensures their safety and provides them with the minimum proper education framework", he added.

"We designed the portable unit using strong low-cost building materials that are available on the market and are resistant to extreme weather conditions in the summer and winter," he said.

Movable, scalable classrooms

The temporary classrooms "can be disassembled and reassembled in other locations" as necessary, Shibli said, noting that a 20-square-metre unit can be put together by two people in about six hours.

The project began as an experiment in the summer of 2013, when AUB students built the first unit at an informal camp in the south during a summer camp.

This was followed by a second experiment within the university campus, and then by the building of the first three units in the north and the Bekaa Valley, after which the idea caught on with organisations working with Syrian refugees.

Since that time, Shibli said, 10 schools in the north and the Bekaa Valley serving more than 5,000 Syrian refugees have adopted the Ghata model.

This includes three schools under the centre’s supervision, he said, "while the other schools are under the supervision of organisations to whom we passed our knowledge of how to assemble the units".

"In 2014, we established a partnership with the Kayany Foundation headed by Nora Jumblatt, and it built eight schools based on the Ghata model," he said.

In addition to designing portable schools, he added, CCECS contributes to curriculum development and helps to train Kayany Foundation teachers.

The centre "is training and developing the capabilities of a Syrian refugee from al-Raqa to build the Ghata model schools upon his return to the city", he said.

Educating Syrian refugees

Since 2014, the Kayany Foundation has built eight schools based on the Ghata model near the camps of Majdal Anjar, Saadnayel, Bar Elias and Mekseh in the Bekaa Valley, project co-ordinator Lamia al-Masri told Al-Mashareq.

Each school consists of nine classrooms.

The Ghata project has solved "more than 70% of the education problem in the areas in which the Kayany Foundation is active", al-Masri said.

This makes it "one of the most successful projects in terms of solving the problem of educating Syrian refugee students in Lebanon", she said.

"Ghata schools look like regular schools, and are clean and well-designed," said AUB science professor Souma Abu Jawdeh, who is the Kayany official in charge of teacher training.

"They comprise spacious classrooms and are equipped with a computer lab and a meeting room," he told Al-Mashareq.

Ghata goes a long way towards addressing the issue of how to educate Syrian refugees, he said, noting that through CCECS centres, teachers have received training on the curriculum and on how to support the students' wellbeing.

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I want to secure education for my kids. However, I haven't found any kindergarten to accept them. Please help.