In Lebanon, summer camp offers safety, education and care for Syrian refugee children and marginalized Lebanese children

By: Soha Bsat Boustani

BEQAA VALLEY – “Why [do] all beautiful things have an end?” said 8-year-old Chadi* at the end of a five-week summer camp for Syrian refugee children and marginalized Lebanese children. “I was so happy here; I played, learned and made so many friends.”

The camp, organized by UNICEF and the Lebanese nongovernmental organization IQRA’ Association, offered a safe place for these children to learn, play and receive psycho-social support.


According to the psychologist Hiba Salem, Chadi—like most of the refugee children here—went through three major stages: First, shock from the violence he lived through; second, uncertainty; and finally, resettlement. Each of these stages left indelible wounds.

With an increasing number of refugees fleeing to the Beqaa Valley villages since the start of the crisis in Syria, UNICEF has accelerated its education-in-emergency response program. The camps offer assistance to Lebanese children, as well, as the areas hosting refugees are known to be among the poorest in the country.

The camp program ensures a favorable learning environment, reaching 570 children in ten public schools in the Beqaa Valley, Hermel and Tripoli.

“The summer camps aim at helping Syrian refugee children cope with normality after all their ordeals. For the Lebanese children living in the most marginalized areas, this presents an opportunity to reinforce their academic gaps and equip them with a better start in the new scholastic year,” said UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Annamaria Laurini.


The classroom offers a peaceful place to read and engage in recreational activities. Students explain that they like reading, dancing and learning languages.

The summer camp has been especially good for those children affected by violence. When asked what they liked best, Louma* said, “Here, they don’t beat us nor shout at us. It was great fun to learn to resolve conflicts by talking, listening and discussing.”

French teacher Sana’ Srouji was proud of her students’ positive attitudes. “The summer camp allowed them to express themselves,” she said. “At the very beginning of the summer session, they were taciturn and shy without any confidence in themselves. They made an amazing progress, and some of those who were not able to read at all are now enjoying the French classes, can read and write, and greatly improved their faculty of expressing themselves.”

One Syrian mother spoke of her son’s transformation. “He lived a traumatizing experience when he left Syria, under the shelling. He was unable to sleep or eat for a week. While very reluctant to go to the summer camp at the beginning, he is today the first to arrive in the morning.”


“Parents have been instrumental in accompanying us through our journey,” said Rima Moussallam, President of IQRA’ Association. “Those that seemed very reluctant at the beginning became engaged and enthusiastic. We also witnessed a major change in teachers’ behavior.”

Nizar Ghanem, project evaluation consultant, said the children face three major obstacles: language barrier, discrimination and difficulty having parents send them to school. His evaluation showed that the camp has helped improvement on all three issues.


The teacher training taught me how to differentiate and work with each child at his or her own level.

Arabic Teacher, Al-Marj School

Why I Support IQRA’

By: Joey Ayoub

I’ve recently joined the Lebanese NGO IQRA’ and although I haven’t done much with them yet, I will try and explain why I view its mission as being extremely important.

First let me present it by copy-pasting some info which you can find here

Iqra’ Association is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-political association founded in 1994 and officially established in 1998. Iqra’ Association’s mission is to reinforce and encourage a lifetime reading habit among the under privileged Lebanese children as well as to raise awareness to the importance of reading as a route to self improvement.


  1. Reach out to elementary public school students in all areas of Lebanon.
  2. Equip Classrooms with class libraries containing books in Arabic and English/French.
  3. Foster interest in literature, books and reading for fun.
  4. Cooperate with concerned local and international bodies to raise public awareness on the importance of reading.
  5. Encourage creativity and improve reading and writing skills.

Unless you’ve been too busy shopping, you might have noticed that we live in a country that’s so corrupt that some of us get shocked when we see a decent honest anything happening. The geniuses that we have in power are dwarfed by the geniuses that support them and we now seem to be too engulfed by our fascination with the latest cellphones to be really giving a damn about those who do not have the time to waste their time.

It doesn’t take much to realize that corruption is all around but for those of us who have lived with it all our lives, it seems harder to overcome. We all know someone who is involved someway or another in that filthy lifestyle but we can’t really pretend to be clean if we don’t do anything about it.

Now to be quite honest, I don’t really care if my neighbor viewed his new iPhone Zx√637.G6B_SexyBoy (it just came out! go get it) as being the super most amazingly awesome thing that will ever happen to him until the Zx√637.G6B_SexyBoy2 comes out or if my she-friend’s passion is buying bigger and bigger sunglasses that make her look like a fly with lipsticks. All of that would have no importance whatsoever if it didn’t distract us from what is really going on – hence the “unless you were too busy shopping” part at the beginning.

I had the misfortune/fortune of seeing a glimpse of that part of the world that’s full of those who do stuff for us to consume – otherwise known as the unlucky bastards in our globalized system – which, not suprisingly, affected me for the better or worse. It’s easy to forget that these unlucky bastards are actually around us and not in some distant land when we’re distracted by all those sparkly advertisements 24/7. But they do exist. And they suffer silently behind that wall that we have erected in order to preserve our lifestyle without too much guilt affecting us. We occasionally do some nice stuff for some charity and feel good about ourselves for the month, sure.

That inherent injustice that sucks the life out of part of the population to vivify the other part will always be what it is unless its very foundation is fixed.

This is where I believe IQRA’ comes in.

Far from claiming to be a solution to all of Lebanon’s problems, it has dedicated itself to tackling the issue of education in a country where public schools are living hells destined to keep the underprivileged in their current position. They offer no real opportunity for any child but are merely there to look adequate for paper work.

These kids are not allowed to have dreams because the society they live in forbids it. Having a dream would be too hard to bear if it were impossible to achieve. It requires too much emotional energy to be sustained indefinitely. Dreams have expiry dates if the dreamer is too busy surviving.

When I heard of IQRA’ for the first time, I couldn’t help but think of one kid in the village of Ambohibola (southern Madagascar) called Farankoke (or Franko for short). That kid learned to read and write on his own and was able to converse in basic French and English by the time we left the village (we stayed for 3 months – 2 in my case).  He attended both my French classes and Mengxing and Chloe’s English classes and his eyes grew to Anime size when he found out that we were starting a small library for his village. I have yet to sent the hundred books that I’m planing to send to their village but I can’t imagine how happy he will be. Education allows a child to think for himself/herself, to be less dependent of his/her environment, to dream. Children want to discover the world. They want to understand their surroundings by asking hundreds of annoying questions.

The IQRA’ people’s love for the children of Lebanon has allowed them to fight hard against the inherent injustices and provide the kids with books and caring love which allowed them to dare to dream. We Lebanese still have a long way to go before being able to count on our government. Not all of us even realize how long that way really is.

In the meantime, we should recognize our responsibility to take care of those who were abandoned by that failure of a system we are part of. We should be pissed off when we see a child on the street playing with garbage. We should do whatever we can – and by whatever, I mean whatever – to give these children what we have received for no other reason than the fact that we were luckier. None of the 4-year-olds on the streets deserve less than what we had when we were 4 years old.

We must get rid of that delusion that sustains our current society for the simple reason that children suffer from it.

IQRA’ needs volunteers of all ages who are willing to read to children and/or donate books. If you are interested, you can contact me on [email protected] or IQRA’ directly on

+961 1-365149 / 1-365159
Blue Building, 5th floor #512
Abdel Aziz Street
Beirut, Lebanon


Children’s Book | عندما مرضت صديقتي

An optimistic children's book about cancer, as told through the perspective of a child. Target age for reader: 5-7 years old.

“What do say to a child suffering from cancer? How do you explain the illness to her friends? Where do you find the strength to tackle such a difficult subject?” are a few of the questions the newly released children’s book by Yuki Press Publishers entitled “عندما مرضت صديقتي”(Translation: “When My Friend Got Sick”) goes over. Sensitively-written in optimistic Arabic rhymes by children’s book author Samar Mahfouz Barraj with dynamic illustrations by Sinan Hallak, this book defuses the fear of cancer in the eyes of its young reader and highlights the ways in which to deal with it.

Illustrator Sinan Hallak (left) with the author Samar Mahfouz Barraj (right) at yesterday’s book signing

We had the chance to catch the book-signing of this interesting storybook at the Beirut Arab International Book Fair at Biel last night where both the author and illustrator were present, signing books left and right. Prior to last night, we’d only heard of one other Arabic children’s book touching on this topic (click here to read about itso it was nice to see others taking on the challenge of addressing these important issues in a child-friendly manner. As an added incentive to grab a copy of this book, percentage of all book sales will be donated to the Children’s Cancer Center who’s work in this field is invaluable.

In the next few days, Yuki Press Publishers in coordination with Iqra’ Association will be holding workshops targeting elementary school students with activities structured around “عندما مرضت صديقتي”. The workshops will be taking place on Dec. 12, 13 and 14 from 10am – 12pm each day at the Lecture Hall of the Beirut Arab International Book Fair in BIEL.



Give back to the Community – Iqra’ Association

Illiteracy is a growing epidemic worldwide, especially in the Arab world. But here in Lebanon we have someone who strives to make sure all children are literate.

Over the last 11 years, the Iqra’ Association has worked to establish a network of over 80 public schools all over Lebanon in which they encourage reading among Lebanese children and youth. Iqra’ Association is a nongovernmental, non-profit organization whose main aim is to reinforce and encourage a lifetime reading habit. They also aim to raise awareness to the importance of reading as a route to self improvement.

As an advocate for lifelong learning and good reading habits, I hope you will all join us at the Iqra’ Fundraising event that will happen on Friday June 10 at 6pm at the Bread Republic. The fundraiser will be to support the Bkaatouta’s summer camp for underprivileged youth where children go to learn for free! There will be a live music set by JLP and a special musical guest Farah Siraj, who is visiting Lebanon for just a few days and will be performing Spanish songs from her newly-released album, NOMAD, including original compositions of FLAMENCO FUSION.

Everyone who donates will be eligible to take part in the auction for an iPad from iStyle and a Nokia E72 Smartphone! There will also be another Nokia E72 Smartphone that’s being given away in a raffle! Ticket donations are $5/person. Bread Republic has generously promised to MATCH the donations, which will give us a huge boost! (Of course, feel free to donate more if you wish to!)

Come ready to eat, drink, mingle, network, socialize, meet new people, listen to great music, and most importantly, support keeping kids off the streets this summer!


IQRA’s Association Celebrates Reading Program

BEIRUT: The IQRA’ Association celebrated last week its Alkabir Yaqra Lisaghir program which encouraged Lebanese youth, especially school students, to develop reading as a lifelong habbit. IQRA’ (to read in Arabic) worked with schools in Hadath, Ras Beirut, Ghbeiri and Bkaatouta where it applied its Alkabir Yaqra Lisaghir program, Arabic for: the older child reads to the younger child. Fifth-grade students were trained to read to younger children during recess and their efforts were recognized at the end of the school year by a visit to a historical site and a celebration. The program started in 2007 and has been adopted in nine schools. All participating readers got medals for helping their school community.


“Read Group” .. ambitious steps to restore friendship between the child and the book

(Cairo – In an initiative to encourage children to read, the coordinator of the Read Lebanon Group, Maryam Mablisi, is a guest on the “Kalam Nouaem” program on Sunday, November 8, 2009, to reveal the transformations the group is seeking To achieve them, by raising the level of knowledge of the child through continuous reading.

The Iqraa Group hopes to restore the friendship between children and writers through its spread in more than 102 schools in Lebanon; to guide children to the means by which reading can be developed by providing a library for each semester.

The general coordinator of the Iqra Group, which was founded 15 years ago, said that they succeeded in achieving some positive results. The children accepted reading, and some went to borrow some books from the school to read them at home.

She pointed out that the future vision of the “Iqra Group” is to unite them with the parents to become a single society that will push the child towards change for the better by encouraging them to read, which has not yet been achieved, revealing some of the other obstacles that stand in their way without accomplishing their goals, Neglecting children and not keeping books.

The guest of the program attributed the reasons for the child’s withdrawal from reading to the absence of the book itself, and the lack of sufficient encouragement by the parents and the school, adding that the child’s connection to reading should begin with him since the age of four years, and stressed the need to develop hobby by carving, Parents and school push the child towards reading.

She added that the child who is raised in an atmosphere full of culture arises from a lover of reading, but there are some parents busy in their work and do not have time to read when going home, so the child automatically acquires what his parents do, and finds himself gradually away from reading.