Securing Marah’s Right to Education

Marah is more fortunate than many girls – an enlightened family and support from UNICEF and Caritas Lebanon have ensured her enrollment at a local public school… for now, at least

Simon Balsom
Little girl smiling
Fouad Choufany

22 January 2019

Mature beyond her years, 13-year-old Syrian refugee Marah sits alongside her mother at home in an informal camp outside Al Madina Al Sinaaiya discussing the importance of a continuing education for girls like her, while they also reflect on the hardships experienced in accessing it.

 

She’s one of the lucky ones though – an enlightened family and support from Caritas Lebanon have ensured her enrolment at a local public school… for now, at least.

“Every girl needs to understand the importance of getting an education”, Marah says. “When I started going to school, my life changed”.

Were it not for the ongoing partnership between UNICEF and Caritas and funding from international donors, Marah’s assurance of continued access to education may be brought in to doubt. Caritas Lebanon works towards removing barriers that prevent children from enrolling at public schools, and helps boost numbers registering by ensuring caregivers receive the information and support required to take the vital steps towards enrolment – their aim is that education is brought within reach of every child.

 

Girl in blue veil sitting in class
Fouad Choufany

They’re not always easy steps and even Marah’s mother, Fodda, admits to some reluctance from within the family.

“At first, her father thought that, as a girl and since she had turned 13, she should stay at home. I didn’t like that idea at all”, Fodda says, “I told him we would be failing Marah if she didn’t go to school, that it was important for her to get an education. Every day she would see her friends go to school while she stayed at home. Every day she would get upset – she was desperate to be with her friends at school and learning”.

Through UNICEF’s support, Caritas Lebanon has created a valuable network of outreach workers, each as skilled as they are passionate about reaching vulnerable girls at risk of missing out on an education. Over time, and with patience, the team won Marah’s father over.

“Every girl needs to understand the importance of getting an education”, Marah says. “When I started going to school, my life changed”.

Kids sitting on futons.
Fouad Choufany

Aside from familial disagreements, there are often key practical considerations too. Here, Caritas is well-placed to help through a further network of connections with stakeholders, public and private references and community leaders. Caritas Lebanon’s team can ease a child’s path back in to education.

Fodda continued, “Our situation is difficult, and to send our children [Marah has six siblings] to school presented us with an impossible financial burden. Caritas visited us and told us that they would help us with registering Marah. They explained that education is now for free!”

“I want to be a teacher myself one day. Then I’ll be able to teach children who would have no access to education. I want to help them become educated like me”.

“So, with my husband convinced, I enrolled Marah in school. The fact that her schooling is now free has helped us a lot. I sleep better at night knowing that my children are getting an education.”

A child’s natural enthusiasm to learn is strong. None more so than Marah’s herself.

“When I was in Syria”, she explained, “I completed my first two grades. Then I came to Lebanon and, at first, I couldn’t enrol in a school - I was forced to skip a whole year. I love studying and so was upset to miss the year. I knew that I could never give up on my education. Then, with the help of Caritas, I was able to join a new school and I was happy again”.

 

Girl participating in class.
Fouad Choufany

Marah’s belief in the importance of education runs deep, and she adds; “I want to be a teacher myself one day. Then I’ll be able to teach children who would have no access to education. I want to help them become educated like me”.

Marah’s story is familiar. Perpetuation of tradition has led to a society where the social norm is for girls to be withdrawn from education at around her age. Seeing Marah playing so easily alongside her friends at school, it would be easy to underestimate the magnitude of the social change that UNICEF and Caritas Lebanon are at the heart of enabling. Within Lebanon’s informal camps there exists ample proof that gender based resistance to education can be overcome – with commitment, with patience, with integrity, and with the enthusiasm of a young child.

 

Marah is one of many children enrolled in school today thanks to funding from the European Union, Germany, Canada, Australia, USAID and UKAID.