TWO 11-year-olds from a Church of England primary school in Lea, Lincolnshire, were at an international conference on Syria on Thursday of last week to share with world leaders what they have learned about the lives and hopes of refugee schoolchildren in Beirut.
The children, Thomas Edwards and Jay Jordan, are among the 190 pupils of Frances Olive Anderson Primary School, which is twinned with the Mohammad Shamel State School, in Beirut, where 40 per cent of the 850 pupils are Syrian or Palestinian refugees.
The two schools are linked through the British Council programme Connecting Classrooms, supported by the Department for International Development. Over the past four years, a close relationship between the schools has developed through frequent video links.
The programme also encourages staff exchanges. Stewart Cook, the Year 4 teacher who oversees the twinning at Frances Olive Anderson, has so far made three ten-day visits to the Beirut school, teaching classes and working with staff. Teachers from Mohammad Shamel have also visited Lincolnshire.
Mr Cook has helped to set up similar arrangements with other Lincolnshire schools. He says that regular contacts help the children to see the young refugees as children like themselves rather than as victims of bombing — “kids who enjoy football after school”. The programme has also changed the perspective of parents, all of whom support the links.
Besides world leaders, Thomas and Jay met the young campaigner for girls’ education and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Malala Yousafzai, and the former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who now heads an international aid agency.