On August 4, 2020, much of Beirut’s public infrastructure was destroyed. Renovating schools posed another challenge to the nation’s education system.
Piles of rubble and broken glass littered the grounds of numerous schools, which were left without doors and window following the explosions. Rehabilitating damaged schools was yet another challenge for the nation’s education system, which was already reeling from an economic crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ensuring children have access to education is a key priority for UNICEF. Education provides children with opportunities for the future, and a sense of normalcy for both children and parents. It also provides a feeling of hope and a safe space for children experiencing trauma.
The explosions damaged more than 160 schools in Beirut, affecting around 85,000 school-age children, adolescents and young people enrolled in public, private and technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) schools.
“In addition to damage to buildings and educational infrastructure, the explosions also increased the risk that children, especially the most vulnerable, would not be able to return to school and learn," says Atif Rafique, Chief of Education in UNICEF Lebanon. "We needed to exert every effort to rehabilitate schools as quickly as possible amid the chaos and devastation that surrounded them."
Eight-year-old Mohammed Awad was one child eager to return to lessons when his school reopened following the explosions. “As soon as it reopened, I was able to see my friends again, and my life of learning restarted.” “I love school”, he bubbles.
Sisters Mira, 12, and Amal, 13, helped clear debris at their school in Achrafieh in the days following the explosion. “We’ve been going there for seven years," Amal says. "It was like our second home. How could we not be part of the clean-up?”
However, unable to return for the start of the school year in September 2020, they lament missed class time.
“Studying online is okay," reflects Lebanese schoolgirl Mira, “but school is better. Nothing replaces the experience of learning in a classroom,” she says.
With resources rapidly mobilized to get lightly to moderately damaged schools back in operation as soon as possible, larger-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation were effectively coordinated with UNESCO and other partners.
UNICEF’s intervention helped get Beirut’s schools back in shape and ready to welcome students to the classroom when full-time education restarted.
The city’s Omar Hamad Public School now has a new aluminium bay window running along all corridors on its three floors. It has been further rehabilitated through the installation of new laminated doors for each classroom.
While there has been progress made to restart classroom learning, there is still more that can be done to get the people of Beirut back to life as they knew it before the 4 August explosion in 2020. Lebanon is facing unprecedented economic and social challenges, with the country going through one of the worst economic crises in recent history, a political stalemate due to the inability to form a government for nearly one year and a worsening COVID-19 crisis. Every child and every family are impacted by this triple crisis one way or the other and the number of people in need of assistance is increasing by the day.
Source: UNICEF Lebanon - Lasting Scars Report