Last summer, I asked you all for donations in order to help get Syrian children back into school. Many of you responded, and your generosity and support was greater than I expected. Unfortunately, my plans to get these children enrolled in school were hindered by bureaucracy and a lack of funding to the UN, a debilitating combination that resulted in far fewer Syrian children being able to enroll in Lebanese public schools this school year. Luckily though things are now back on track, and a lot more Syrians are now able to enroll in what is called ‘second shift’ in Lebanese public schools. Among these children are some of the kids I’ve known for the past two years, and yesterday was their very first day attending school in over three years.
The school, one of many Lebanese public schools now hosting a second shift program for Syrian children in the evenings, is held in a modest two-story building in a town located in the mountains outside of Beirut. Before school started, I showed up to find some of the Syrian children already chatting and playing in the courtyard of the school. A few minutes later, as I sat inside speaking with the school director about the last minute preparations for the day, the once faint sounds of laughter from outside had grown to a roar of excited, happy screaming. I walked out into the hallway and over to the windows overlooking the courtyard. As I stood watching these children running around and screaming like little maniacs, I couldn’t help but smile. Their joy was infectious. Gradually, some of the children I know and have visited in their homes began to notice me, and one by one they approached the window, smiled and waved at me. It was such a perfect moment.
I once lived for a brief stint in China, and while there I visited a place called Beihai Park in Beijing. In addition to lakes, temples and meandering walkways chock-full of Chinese people, there was an area called the ‘Land of Extreme Happiness,’ an amazing name that makes me laugh and thank God for strange Chinese naming conventions. I always used to think about the Land of Extreme Happiness. What could cause extreme happiness, and what kind of place would it be? It would probably be different for each person, I decided. But regardless of who was visiting, I thought that the land of extreme happiness would probably have to be in direct contrast with the situation in which the person finds himself or herself before entering the land. For instance, if a person had gone ten years without ice cream, maybe their land of extreme happiness would be like that candy land from Willy Wonka, except that instead of chocolate and gumdrops there would just be ice cream, everywhere. It’s the contrast that would make it extreme.
I believe these Syrian children found their land of extreme happiness yesterday, and it was in a cold, damp school in the mountains of Lebanon. This happiness came though at some extremely high costs; the cost of not attending school for several years, the cost of experiencing isolation and fear in a foreign country, and the cost of never socializing with a large group of peers. I doubt if anyone would ever seriously and willingly deprive themselves of things they want or love in order to later make the rediscovery of these things even sweeter. However, I feel privileged for having witnessed these children’s journey, and their arrival to their own place of happiness.
I would like to offer a sincere, heartfelt thank you to all of you who donated money and sponsored children. These children would not be attending school now without your generosity. Since the UN is covering all the school costs for now, your donations will be going to pay for transportation for these children to and from their new schools. And if you are reading this and haven’t yet donated, there is still a huge need for funds to pay specifically for transportation. There is little to no budget from the UN or any other organizations here in Lebanon to pay these costs, and without this service, many kids will be forced to drop out of school as the year continues. An amount of roughly $150 will cover one child’s transportation costs from now until June, so please, if you are able to donate, you can do so by clicking the donate now button over to the right of this page. Thank you all for your support, none of this would be happening without you.