I recently traveled to Lebanon for a couple of months to photograph Syrian refugees. I’m sure you’ve heard to varying degrees about the conflict in Syria. What you might not know is how serious a situation this is for the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians affected by the war. António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told the Guardian in April that the effects of the war in Syria pose the “worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.” While displaced Syrians are fleeing into many countries throughout the world, the majority of them are going to neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
 Lebanon is a very small country, smaller in physical area than the state of Connecticut, with a total population of roughly four million. The official number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN surpassed 525,000 this week; however, the Lebanese government estimates there is now a total of approximately one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. One million. That means one in five people today in Lebanon is a refugee.
 One of the most alarming byproducts of this disaster is the toll it is taking on Syrian children. At the beginning of the war in Syria, Lebanon made the decision not to establish refugee camps. This has resulted in thousands of Syrians pouring into Lebanon each week and then occupying any place they can find, whether that means setting up a tent, renting an apartment, or squatting in an abandoned building. Because the refugees are not confined in centralized camps, neither the UN nor the Lebanese government knows with certainty how many Syrians there are in the county and where they are all located. Due to their wide dispersal, and because of the Lebanese government’s desire to have them integrate themselves into Lebanese society, education for Syrian refugee children is, for the most part, nonexistent. Most of the schools in Lebanon are already at capacity. In the rare instances there is space at a Lebanese school for Syrian children, most families don’t have enough money to pay the required fees for either public or private school.
 So, as it stands, the majority of Syrian children have absolutely nothing to do each day. They sit at home (and I use the word home here in the loosest of senses). They watch TV. They go out on the streets of Beirut to beg for money. They may, as in the case of one family I met, spend almost all of their waking moments in one single room, playing with one single toy, their only possession and form of entertainment. If they are one of the lucky ones, they get out of the house to work with their father doing some type of manual labor for no pay. These are children who often witnessed brutal violence, had members of their families kidnapped or killed, and who grew accustomed before leaving Syria to the sound of shelling and to the fact that they or their loved ones might die at any moment. These would be serious matters for any adult to digest; it pains me to think of children grappling with such issues.
 Having witnessed first-hand the current situation in Lebanon, I feel compelled to try my hardest to make some type of difference there. And so, I have decided to open a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugee children. I will be returning there in a few weeks to take additional photos, shoot some video, and speak with existing relief organizations with whom I hope to strike up a partnership to get this school up and running.
 I am starting this blog in order to share my experiences in Lebanon with whoever is interested, through both stories and images. As I secure cooperation with an existing non-profit in Lebanon and as I move forward in the process of getting the school up and running, funding will obviously become a major issue. When that time comes, I will invite you to take part with me in helping to change the lives of some of these children by making whatever donations you can. I would also ask that you share a link to this blog via whatever social networking or forms of communication you use to keep in touch with your friends and colleagues.
 In the meantime, and for my upcoming trip to Lebanon, I will have limited space to bring clothing for some of the children. If you have any old clothing you would like to donate, please message me on Facebook or email me at learninghopeinlebanon@gmail.com and I will coordinate with you. Just so you know, I will be in Las Vegas and DC before my departure, and so could potentially pick up clothing from you in either location. Additionally, if you would like to make a small monetary donation, please let me know and I can give you instructions on how to do so online through Paypal. Although I am paying for my trip to Lebanon, a few small donations might be helpful in paying for an interpreter and possibly making some food donations.
 In closing, I want to briefly climb onto my soapbox and say that I wholeheartedly agree with Nelson Mandela when he stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I like to think there are two main types of agents (or weapons) of change in the world: preventative and reactionary. A reactionary agent of change would be a method for correcting an already existing problem. Bad things happen, undesirable situations exist, and these reactionary agents deal with these things and attempt to correct them. I believe this form of change, while obviously good, takes a back seat to the much more powerful preventative agent of change. This is a means of change that seeks to fundamentally alter society before any problem or social ill can even take root. It transforms people into more tolerant, more understanding, more balanced human beings. This form of change, in its purest essence, is education.
 I look forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. I am confident that together we will be able to accomplish great things, and be able to make a meaningful impact in the lives of some very deserving children.