With more than 750,000 of those displaced by the war now returning home, the movement within Lebanon continues. As agencies work to meet the immediate needs of those who lost their homes, the schools that once housed many of those displaced are set to again play a crucial role in the conflict in Lebanon – that of healing the scars of the war.
Opened by government order to all of those displaced by the war, schools like the Lebeaá Official High School near Sidon, southern Lebanon, sheltered those uprooted by the conflict.
“The first day we received families who were still scared,” said Fr. Joseph Wakim, Principal of the school, recounting the early days of the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. “So they stayed one day and moved to the mountains."
While many passed through, many others stayed on at the school, until 101 people swelled the classrooms and open spaces, most of them from the border towns directly affected by the fighting. With few resources to meet the needs, Fr. Wakim turned to aid agencies like Caritas Lebanon for assistance.
“Caritas started with food and hygiene items, and a doctor was coming to visit,” Wakim said.
With the ceasefire on August 14, the schools here emptied as quickly as they filled. In the wake of that exodus, schools were often left littered with the discards of a displaced population.
“They didn’t break anything, it’s just cleanliness issues,” Fr. Wakim said. “We want to spray it for insects, then we will clean it.”
Assisting with that effort is one of Caritas Lebanon’s main goals as relief operations here move into their second phase. By cleaning and rehabilitating schools like the Lebeaá Official High School, Caritas is helping to ensure that the schools are ready for the next school year, pushed back by the government from the usual starting date of between September 25 and October 2 to October 9.
It is an effort with far greater significance, says Fr. Wakim, than just getting the schools cleaned and painted. It is here that the youth of Lebanon, many of whom volunteered to help out during the war in the very schools they had been attending, will have the chance to process the lessons they learned during the intensity of the previous weeks – and begin the healing process.
With the new school year, Fr. Wakim said, teachers will discuss with students the many experiences they lived through during the war, and most importantly, how to avoid conflict at all levels, a critical lesson for Lebanon’s youth is the fires of war are to be avoided here in the future.
“We consider that the school is influential, where the students can express themselves but also be guided by the teachers,” Fr. Wakim said. “We want to use the school as a tool for this.”