In response to a catastrophic economic crisis and soaring Christian migration, a leading Catholic charity has launched an aid programme enabling 30,000 pupils and 6,000 teachers to return to Lebanese Church schools.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has unveiled a raft of initiatives worth £1.98million, including stipends for teachers, aid for struggling families and help for students at 89 assisted schools.
Dr Caroline Hull, National Director, ACN (UK), said: "Having recently come back from a trip to Lebanon, I know first-hand how vital Catholic schools are to Lebanese society, but also how urgent the situation is for education in the country. Schools are without paper, pens and textbooks. Teachers are few, the children are hungry, and electricity is available only two hours per day. Yet, very recently these schools were providing high-quality education to happy, healthy children."
According to the World Bank, Lebanon is facing a severe economic crisis, with the economy having contracted by nearly 60 percent since 2019, the Lebanese lire declining in value by 90 percent, and almost 75 percent of the population living in poverty.
Around 185,000 pupils aged between six and 18, Muslim and Christian, attend 250 Catholic schools in the country.
Dr Hull said: "During the last academic year, due to migration or financial difficulties, one in 10 children left school in Lebanon. Many schools are at risk of going bankrupt, they can barely afford to pay teachers and sustain themselves. There are also issues to do with power and electricity supply, with schools reliant on access to private generators during frequent power outages.
"Like in many parts of the Middle East, Lebanese Christianity faces a huge threat from high levels of migration. Keeping schools open will help preserve the Christian presence massively."
Because Christian and Muslim students work side-by-side in Catholic schools in Lebanon, Dr Hull highlighted concerns that their closure would have extremely harmful effects for religious co-existence in the country, and the rest of the Middle East.
She said: "Lebanese Catholic schools are a beacon of interreligious harmony, an example of hope for not just the country, but the region as a whole. It is only thanks to the help from our generous benefactors that we are able to provide this vital service to Lebanese Christians."
With thanks to Maria Lozano
Aid to the Church in Need: www.acnuk.org