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Mobilizing Local Faith Communities for Education in Emergencies

Increase education access for refugee children in Lebanon by mobilizing local faith communities to provide non-formal education.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

UNHCR reports 487,212 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The 2016 VASyR reports 48% of primary age Syrian children are out of school. The highest target set by the Ministry of Education is access for 255,647 non-Lebanese by 2021, leaving more than 230,000 Syrian refugee children, in addition to Palestinian and Iraqi, without access to formal education. In the absence of non-formal education programs to fill this gap, refugee children are at risk of missing out on years of education.

Explain your innovation.

This project mobilizes LFCs to provide non-formal education to refugee children as a stop-gap intervention for those unable to access the formal system. Local faith communities (LFCs) are often well integrated in society and uniquely equipped to serve their community. With support and training LFCs can be mobilized to open existing facilities as safe, protective non-formal learning centers utilizing experienced host community and refugee educators. Currently MERATH supports 4 LFCs to run non-formal learning centers providing BLN and second language instruction. Learning centers use official curriculum, conduct placement and cumulative assessments and determine grade level completion. This intervention allows children to continue their education and be prepared to successfully transition to the formal system when space becomes available, they emigrate or return home. This intervention also provides vital child protection measures, psychosocial support, and helps children and families integrate into the local community. At the beginning of the 2016/17 school year 100 children from MERATH’s learning centers were able to successfully enter the formal system and did not miss years of school. Qualitative evidence from FGDs shows that this intervention has enabled children to recover from trauma as they regain a sense of normalcy, routine and belonging, build relationships, have the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment where they can learn and develop.

Who benefits?

Currently over 1,200 Syrian refugee, with a small percentage of Iraqi and vulnerable Lebanese children benefit from the non-formal education programs of MERATH’s local partners. Currently programs focus on primary students ages 6-12 with a target of equal access for girls and boys. The typical student in MERATH’s program is a Syrian refugee child who missed 1-4 years of school and has been unable to access the formal education system in Lebanon. Without the non-formal education programs offered by LFCs the majority of students would be sitting at home, participating in child labor, or married early. Success is measured when a child without a future is given the opportunity to continue and progress in their education, show growth academically, emotionally and socially, are protected from risks common to refugee children, and are provided quality education enabling them to successfully transfer to the formal education system when possible.

How is your innovation unique?

The uniqueness of this program is the localization of aid by host and refugee communities implementing EiE through LFCs. LFCs are integrated in society and uniquely equipped to holistically serve the community. LFCs naturally build relationships with children and parents which allows LFCs to address protection risks at the root level, which increases the likelihood of long-term change. In the middle-east context, religion and faith are intertwined in culture, society and politics. Despite religious differences between host community and refugee populations, MERATHs experience has shown that the refugee community appreciates the holistic, relational, and faith elements that are inherently present when LFCs respond to crisis. MERATH began an Education Learning Network in 2016 as a teacher learning community for LFCs providing EiE. The ELN meets quarterly to network, share best practices and receive training on CP, PSS, INEE and IASC standards, inclusion and teaching pedagogy.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Staff care is a challenge as LFCs and refugees are inherently more personally integrated in the community. This brings great advantage and challenge relating to vicarious trauma, stress and burnout due to the difficulty of establishing clear boundaries and separation. When localizing aid it is important that LFCs adhere to humanitarian principles of impartiality and non-conditionality. Qualitative evidence from FGDs and third party evaluation over the past 2 years show that parents feel their different faith backgrounds are respected and appreciate the holistic, faith-based approach of LFCs. MERATH believes that LFCs can provide aid holistically in accordance to humanitarian standards and this is a continual process of learning and growing.

Tell us more about you.

MERATH is the relief and development arm of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), a Lebanese NGO operating since 1998. MERATH is a faith-based organization that partners with LFCs in the MENA region responding to the urgent needs of the most vulnerable since 2009, with current programs in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq focusing on education, child protection, food security and livelihoods with a small staff supporting the implementing work of over 50 LFCs.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

This program is currently operational in Lebanon, with similar programs in Syria implemented by LFCs providing Child Friendly Spaces. This type of program could also be duplicated and implemented in any crisis or conflict situation where there is a need for stop-gap education in emergencies while formal systems are established or where formal systems are overcrowded or are non-existent.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

MERATH currently has education programs in the Bekaa, Mount Lebanon and North regions of Lebanon. There continues to be a huge gap in education access for Syrian refugee children, all over Lebanon, but particularly in the Bekaa where 70% of primary aged Syrian children are out of school (2016 VASyR). MERATH is ready to expand current programs and open additional locally implemented learning centers in the Bekaa, Chouf, Beirut, Mount Lebanon and North regions.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

MERATH was established in 2009 as the relief and development arm of LSESD, a local NGO that has been operating in Lebanon since 1998 with strong connections to local and international FBOs. MERATH partners with and is supported by both institutional donors and international FBOs such as World Vision, Food for the Hungry and Tearfund. MERATH staff continue to participate and submit research to the Joint Learning Initiative, specific to the localization of aid and LFCs.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

LSESD has extensive experience in education, running a top-performing private school in Lebanon as well as SKILD, a center with expertise in special education and advocacy at the national level. MERATH began EiE programs in 2013, currently supported by an Ed Program Officer and Child Protection Consultant with international and local experience, along with local implementing LFC staff with highly contextualized experience. MERATH currently supports 8 learning centers providing EiE across Lebanon

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Registered and based in Lebanon, with projects in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.



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