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Education is 'only way forward' for young victims of Lebanon conflict

An Edinburgh teacher who visited Lebanon just five weeks before the most recent conflict began has put her weight behind a new appeal to support teachers and schools.

Hilary Ballantine, a maths teacher at St Margaret's School, is urging other teachers to back the appeal by Education Action, a charity which supports teacher training and basic education schemes in the crowded Palestinian refugee camps dotted along the Lebanese border.

Before the conflict began there were already 400,000 people squeezed into 12 camps, with just five secondary schools.

Currently all the programmes Education Action supports in Lebanon are suspended and the schools are closed. Association Najdeh, one of its key partners, was running 26 projects in the camps, which have existed since 1948, but all have been forced to close.

Even though it is considered too dangerous for children and families to travel or to be gathered in one place while the shells fall, the schools are not empty. Hundreds of displaced families have sought shelter there, while many aid workers have had to leave their homes because of the conflict.

The focus is currently on emergency aid, but Education Action is determined to restart its programmes as quickly as possible after a ceasefire is agreed to ensure the education of refugees resumes. The charity, founded by two Scottish teachers in 1923 to nurture educational schemes in areas blighted by conflict, also supports programmes to improve the training of teachers and has built up a successful Insight programme, sending British teachers to areas ravaged by war to offer their expertise and experience.

Work continues in other regions such as Sudan, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

"Extensive research has shown that establishing educational services as soon as possible is vital to recapturing a sense of normalcy for children affected by conflict," Sulieman Mleahat, Education Action's Middle East programme manager, said. "It gives somewhere for these children to meet and play, and it allows parents an opportunity to become economically active again."

The charity is currently developing programmes to ensure specialist training for teachers to help children traumatised by the conflict, and to provide counselling. Eventually it would like to return to its core provision of early years education, training for teachers and adult education for women, as well as restart its Insight visits to the area.

Meanwhile, Mrs Ballantine has had sporadic contact with her old contacts.

"I have had one email from each of the two teachers I kept in touch with after my visit. They haven't been able to work normally and are having to take shelter for long periods," she said. "The conditions in the camps were already extremely harsh, it must be truly dreadful now.

"But nothing will change my belief that education is the only way forward.

I only hope the teachers there will one day soon be able to carry on the wonderful work we saw."

For the full story of Hilary Ballantine's visit to Lebanon visit www.tes.co.uksearchstory?story_id=2264110. To donate to Education Action go to www.education-action.org.

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