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Syria: daily life a struggle to survive Donor pledges must prioritise urgent humanitarian plight of displaced Syrians Iraq: Hairdressing offers hope Jordan: A ray of hope Jordan: an arduous and perilous journey to safety Jordan: caught between memories of the past and the reality of today Jordan: Dreaming a future in a foreign land Jordan: dreaming of an open Syria Jordan: eat dust here or die in Syria Jordan: online education, harnessing the skills of refugees Jordan: refugees helping refugees JRS Middle East Director visits US Lebanon: a cup of tea in the snow Lebanon: before and after displacement, through a Syrian child's eyes Lebanon: Finding home in a new place Lebanon: keeping a special spirit alive Lebanon: language barriers prevent Syrian children from attending school Lebanon: Running with friends again Lebanon: School allows students to dream of the future Lebanon: Syrian children need more than a traditional education Lebanon: Syrian families flee to protect their children Lebanon: xenophobia against Syrians in public schools Middle East: protection of Syrian civilians must be world's priority Prayer for Syria: blessed are the peacemakers Six years on, Syrian people share stories of hope for the future Syria: amidst upheaval, the scope of services expands Syria: between fear of violence and the struggle to survive Syria: bread and fuel shortages in Aleppo add to daily woes Syria: bringing families together Syria: cries for peace Syria: dialogue is the solution, not war Syria: displaced Syrians struggle to find shelter Syria: encouraging internally displaced persons to be involved in emergency assistance Syria: enduring spirit remains despite the rubble Syria: examining the role of women from a humanitarian perspective in response to conflict Syria: Finding community at the Alberto Hurtado Centre Syria: holding onto normality in Aleppo Syria: humanitarian situation in the region deteriorating rapidly Syria: in conflict, persecution affects Muslims and Christians alike Syria: Iraqi refugees on the sidelines of yet another conflict Syria: JRS calls for safe passage and security to all civilian population in Aleppo Syria: JRS condemns every form of violence Syria: JRS expands emergency support in Aleppo Syria: JRS serves displaced in Aleppo - UPDATE 20 December 2016 Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: Laila, art is in her heart Syria: let this fourth anniversary of the war be the last Syria: local networks of solidarity and JRS helping displaced families Syria: refugee finds his life's purpose at Al Mukhales Centre Syria: resilience and hope Syria: Shattered dreams but embers of hope Syria: thousands displaced after upsurge in violence in Sheikh Maqsoud Syria: turning pain into their most powerful weapon Syria: two years of conflict threaten children's education and well-being Syria: update on JRS emergency assistance SYRIA: Update on situation in Damascus Syria: urgent need for winter supplies Syria: violence in Damascus fuels hopelessness, fear Syria: volunteers are essential to the work of JRS Syria: water, the simplest gift of all Syria: why people flee and why they need protection Syria: work of Jesuit community recognised by German human rights foundation Syria: working under principles of neutrality, non-violence and inclusiveness USA: the Jesuit Refugee Service stands with Syria Voices of Europe unite to help Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee children often cannot go to school. JRS is working to remove obstacles to education for them. (Sarah Teather/Jesuit Refugee Service)
Beirut, 16 July 2015 -- We stepped over puddles of water and bundles of wires as we climbed the stairs to the apartment. It was typical of the ramshackle buildings in the poorer districts of Beirut that now house so many of Lebanon's 1.5 million Syrian refugees. 

"Ramadan Kareem! Is your mum there? Can we come in?" ventured the Jesuit Refugee Service home visits leader in Arabic. Another young head poked out from behind the doorway, then another, and a broad smile. "Mahaba! Ahlan wa sahlan!" [Hello, welcome!] More children, many smiles. "You are welcome!" said the mother, kissing me – a total stranger – and ushering us into their home.

We filed through a narrow dark kitchen and into a very bare living room at the back. As we sat down on the floor, I was conscious that we were a large group to arrive uninvited into a small home, even more so in the Ramadan holiday month during Beirut's long hot days. In addition to the usual Syrian members of the home visits team, that day we included a French volunteer, a young Lebanese member of our country office, and me, a Brit visiting from the international office. 

But even while I was still pondering the size of our own group, the room began to fill with children: boys and girls, toddlers through to early teens, pony tails, coloured headscarves, short, tall, dark-haired, fair-haired. Twenty four people in all – three families, multiple adults and children, all squashed in to a tiny third floor apartment just off a busy street. 

It was an unusual home – not so for much the number of people in the space – families cohabiting and extreme overcrowding is common as refugees in Lebanon are forced to come together to afford rent. No, what was unusual about this home was that all the school-age children were in school. Four hundred thousand Syrian children are out of school in Lebanon. Transport costs, difficulty registering, discrimination in the Lebanese system, and the need for children to work to help pay the family bills, all combine to keep many children locked out of education. 

By contrast, all of these children, now seated on the floor with us, were spilling over in enthusiasm to show us what they had learned. "One, two, three, four..." The children began to count in English in unison, spontaneously, without anyone seeming to take a lead. "Un, deux, trois, quatre..." they continued to murmurs of approval from our French volunteer. 

"What is your name?" asked an older girl to me in carefully pronounced English. "How old are you?" she said again. "Forty-one," I said. "Have you learned to count that high?" "He can count to 100!" answered a mother in Arabic. She gestured to one of her young sons to get up from the crowd of children and stand at the front to show us what else he could do. He began to recite his alphabet.

It was like a graduation ceremony. A huge celebration. There were claps and cheers and smiles and laughs. The energy in the room was palpable.

I had been so busy looking at the children that I did not notice their mother at first. When I finally glanced at her again, I realised that she was crying. "I'm sorry," she said, wiping her face on her sleeve. "It makes me so happy. It makes me so happy to see them do this. They learn quickly. It has been just four months. Four months at school and look what they can do!"

We saw many tears on our home visits that week. Hers were the only tears we saw of happiness. 

--By Sarah Teather, JRS Advocacy Consultant