UNICEF and the Government of Italy collaborate to deliver a fresh start for schools in Lebanon

Led by UNICEF, schools across Lebanon are being rehabilitated – ensuring access to inclusive, safe, healthy and conducive learning environments

Simon Balsom
Students sitting in their newly renovated and colorful class room at Kawthariyet El Seyad Intermediate Public School
UNICEF/Lebanon2019/FouadChoufany

07 June 2019

“Our school was broken – and with it the children’s spirit”

Led by UNICEF, schools across Lebanon are being rehabilitated – ensuring access to inclusive, safe, healthy, and conducive learning environments. UNICEF and the Government of Italy collaborate to deliver a fresh start for schools in Lebanon

Opened in 2001 and neglected ever since, Kawthariyet El Seyad Intermediate Public School is one of the twenty-two schools in Lebanon rehabilitated as part of the RACE (Reaching All Children with Education) initiative - a joint programme between UNICEF and the country’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education - and funded by the Government of Italy.

“No matter how hard we tried to keep our school clean and tidy”, recalls school director Suzi Kojok, “there was always a smell that never left. There was simply a shabbiness that got inside everyone’s soul”.

English-language teacher Rima Issa remembers, “It was a disaster. We’d have things falling from the ceiling, and every time it rained, water came through the roof. It was in as bad a condition as you could ever imagine”.

“All of my teachers were suffering from the effect of the stress from working in the conditions – and of course the children’s education was affected by the poor quality of the fabric of the building as well as by their teacher’s low morale”, Suzi says, adding, “We were all tired, but the teachers here remained very committed to the school and to the children – we never gave up hope of creating a vibrant school once again”.

Taking us on a tour of the newly refurbished building, Rima shakes her head and tell us: “The bathrooms were shameful. Even if the children wanted to use the toilets, they couldn’t. Everything was broken. Our school was broken – and with it the children’s spirit”.

Today, after the Government of Italy’s investment in the rehabilitation of the building, Kawthariyet El Seyad Intermediate Public School is once again filled with vigour and sits proudly at the centre of its community.

Students standing in their newly renovated school.
UNICEF/Lebanon2019/FouadChoufany

"We were too afraid even to drink the water that came from the taps. Not any longer, though! We love everything about our new school!"

Rima led us into a classroom. A bright, clean, happy place, just a year ago it looked "like a war zone." 

The children, as young as they are, speak for themselves. 4-year-old Zeina remembers the previous bare grey concrete of the walls. “There was no colour in our classroom, and the tables were broken, so we’d have to lay on the floor to do our drawings. Now look at it!”, she smiles. There is colour all around – including the newly delivered candy-coloured tables and chairs.  

Classmate Batool chimed in and said, “we were too afraid even to drink the water that came from the taps. Not any longer, though! We love everything about our new school!"

In all, 16 classrooms were refurbished, together with common areas of the school, including the once-unusable toilet blocks.

Students participating in activities in their newly renovated school.
UNICEF/Lebanon2019/FouadChoufany

"People talked about the school in a bad way. They said no one cared about the school. But when I arrived, and I saw the transformation, it felt like they'd created a whole new school." 12-year-old Fatima.

14-year-old Mahdi Ahmed has been at the school since KG1. “We had no enthusiasm to come to school anymore. It was a depressing thought! It felt more like a prison than a school. Now we’re all excited to come, every day. It is bright, it is clean, it feels like a safe space! I see the teachers feeling different – they’re more relaxed and more comfortable too”.

Fatima Saab is 12. This is her first year at the school but recalls her trepidation at the thought of her first day. "People talked about the school in a bad way. They said no one cared about the school – not the government nor the teachers. But when I arrived, and I saw the transformation, it felt like they'd created a whole new school. I feel relaxed here, I love this place”.

The investment from the Government of Italy has inspired additional funding input from a host of other local individuals and organisations. Together, driven by Suzi Kojok’s dynamic efforts, they have funded a new all-purpose hall and library for the pupils.

“They saw how we, with the support of UNICEF and the Government of Italy, had committed to the rehabilitation of our school. They saw, finally, the school had a future, it had pride, and they were excited to get involved and add more themselves,” she says.

“Very few families here have the financial security to send their children to a private school, but now, we’re a very realistic alternative towards securing a good education. Once again, and for the first time in many years, the school is back where it belongs… at the heart of the community.”

Link to video on it's hosted site.
UNICEF/Lebanon2019/FouadChoufany