UNICEF Lebanon and UK Aid in support of Lebanon’s youth

UK Aid and UNICEF have engaged with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and specialist NGOs to create a basic literacy and numeracy (BLN) programme

Simon Balsom
ourteen-year-old Fatma sits quietly at the edge of her classroom
UNICEF Lebanon 2019

11 September 2019

Fourteen-year-old Fatma sits quietly at the edge of her classroom in Mouvement Social’s Bourj Hammoud centre. A densely populated area on Beirut’s northern border, Fatma has lived here with her family since being forced to leave their Aleppo home three years ago. Born with hearing difficulties, she has led a chequered school-life and attended classes in Syria for only two years. Today, through UNICEF Lebanon’s Basic Literacy and Numeracy (BLN) programme, Fatma has her sights set on making a fresh start.

For a large number of children in Lebanon, particularly among the refugee population, the opportunity for regular education has long appeared nothing more than a vague hope. Many of these children lack even the most basic learning skills. For those aged between 8 and 14 and unable to read and write, UNICEF, with funds from UK Aid has engaged with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and specialist NGOs in the country to create a basic literacy and numeracy (BLN) programme to prepare targeted children, such as Fatma, to enter formal education and vocational training.

“I love to knit and sew, and by the end of this year, I’ll finally be able to begin to practice my dream and work towards making knitting my career. Fatma, 14"

Children in classroom.
UNICEF Lebanon 2019

Her hearing impediment had distanced her from her peers throughout her life and diminished the effects of any standard educational techniques. Recognising this, shortly after arriving at the Bourj Hammoud centre, she was examined by a doctor and quickly provided with a UNICEF-funded hearing aid – for the first time in her life she could hear sounds correctly. A first step towards reducing her sense of isolation was made.

"Since coming here I’ve learned to write, and I’m learning to pronounce the letters of the alphabet correctly." Fatma, 14.

“I know my speech is still not good, but since coming here I’ve learned to write, and I’m learning to pronounce the letters of the alphabet correctly. I worked with a speech therapist on a one-to-one basis and had more than 30 sessions with him, although they came to an end of last year. These days, I attend the centre for 4 days a week, and for 3 hours a day. I’m in a regular class with other children”.

How has the opportunity to access UNICEF’s UK Aid-funded basic literacy and numeracy programme changed her life? She looks away and begins to weep when she’s asked. Composing herself, she replies, “I’m sorry. It’s still not easy for me to talk. I can now see how much I’ve missed by not going being able to go to school as a young child. It’s hard for me here, but I want to study hard so that at the end of the year I’ll be able to read and write well enough to attend vocational training. I love to knit and sew, and by the end of this year, I’ll finally be able to begin to practice my dream and work towards making knitting my career. My father is a tailor here in Bourj Hammoud, and I want to design and make clothes. My dream is to make and sell dresses with flower-prints”.

Children in classroom.
UNICEF Lebanon 2019