It is mid-winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, but it is the first month of school for 100 Syrian children. Although the surrounding villages are filled with plenty of school-age Syrian children playing and selling chewing gum in the streets, these kids are glad to be in the classroom, learning to read and write. With the war in Syria now in its fifth year, many of these children were displaced from their homes before they were of school age. For most, this is their first time attending school, ever.

All these children are illiterate.

In February, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) began the Educational Ministry for Syrian Refugees project to help reduce illiteracy among Syrian refugees, beginning with those living in the Bekaa region. They have begun with two schools: one in the village of Kib Elias, the other is in Reyak. A third site in the Northern area surrounding Minyara will be open before spring, which will be followed by a school in Tyre, in the south of Lebanon. In all, five schools accommodating 50 students each are planned to be in operation by the end of the year, serving a total of 250 Syrian refugee children.

Although other church-run educational ministries do exist in Lebanon, the NESSL program is unique in how it is tailored for the needs of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese educational system utilizes a combination of Arabic and English curriculum, while the NESSL ministry uses the exclusively Arabic Syrian curriculum. In addition to decreasing the difficulty for children who have not been exposed to English, using the Syrian curriculum gives an advantage to students should they return to their home country.

A Syrian girl reads a chart of English and Arabic words after her first month of attending school.

A Syrian girl reads a chart of English and Arabic words after her first month of attending school. —Scott Parker

Each of the NESSL Syrian ministry schools is designed to accommodate 50 children between the ages 6-11. Each school is located in proximity to a refugee camp, from where students are recruited. Despite the range in student ages, the project will primarily offer first grade classes, as 90 percent of students have never been enrolled in school and all have tested as illiterate.

The students attend school five days per week, from 8:30 am to 1:00 pm. They study a curriculum of English, Arabic, Mathematics and science. Each school day also includes Bible content with an emphasis upon ethics and morality. At the end of the day, each child receives a hot meal.

“This is a bridge-building opportunity,” emphasizes the Rev. Suheil Saoud, Secretary of NESSL’s Social Services Committee, which oversees the project. All of the students are Muslim, which is the demographic of the refugee camps in Lebanon. Some of the families are radicalized. This creates the necessity for cultural sensitivity, but an even greater opportunity to come alongside of these refugee families during their time of need.

The families are not charged for tuition, and all school textbooks and supplies are provided free of charge. NESSL runs this program entirely from the donations of partner churches outside of Lebanon.


Individuals and congregations interested in supporting Scott and Elmarie may donate online at
To respond to the needs of Syrian refugees, donate online at  

You may also send a check to: Presbyterian World Mission, PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. Checks should be made to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and noted for E200504 (Scott and Elmarie) or DR000081 (Syrian refugees).