SYRIA/LEBANON: Charity funds Christian schools to curb Islamist extremism

Pupils at a school run by the Good Service Sisters in Lebanon.
Pupils at a school run by the Good Service Sisters in Lebanon.

To tackle an educational crisis in the Middle East, a Catholic charity is providing millions in aid to help impoverished families educate their children and prevent the spread of extremism.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) announced a support package of £2.3 million for Catholic schools, pupils and teachers in Syria and Lebanon.

As part of the ACN help, more than 16,000 mostly Christian pupils in 176 schools will receive help with education costs.

Families are increasingly unable to afford essentials like books and stationery – not to mention fees, as 70 percent of Lebanon’s schools are private.

The aid programme will also supplement the salaries of 6,000 Catholic school teachers and 117 catechists working in state schools.

Both Syria and Lebanon’s schools rely on international financial support for their survival, according to Marielle Boutros, ACN project coordinator in Lebanon.

Ms Boutros said: “Our schools are in a terrible bind. Parents can’t pay school fees anymore, and there is no state support.

She added: “The schools can’t afford the teachers’ salaries.

Then there are the operational costs.”

Ms Boutros said the disappearance of Catholic schools would have serious consequences for the country because “Islamist institutions are waiting” to take over.

She warned: “The children would then be ideologically indoctrinated, which would lead to more extremism.”

ACN provided a similar aid package in 2022, which was “a great blessing”, according to Yolla Bader, a catechist at a state school near Beirut.

Ms Bader said: “My task here is not simply to teach. My mission is to be the presence of Christ in this school, even when that is only a little light in the darkness.”

She added that without the subsidies for catechists provided by ACN she would not have been able to afford an operation on her shoulder following an accident this year.

The fresh aid programme will include funding for more than 20 solar panel projects for schools in Syria and Lebanon to help them become self-sufficient.

Elias Nseir, from the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate told ACN that the “support enables us, despite all the obstacles, to pursue our educational, human and Christian task.”

The Patriarchate runs Al-Riaya School in Syria’s capital Damascus.

Mr Nseir added: “We are doing everything we can to fulfil our mission and are deeply grateful to our donors.

“You were, and are, a colossal support. Thank you all, a thousand times over.

“We are counting on your valuable help.”


With thanks to Sina Hartert