SIX churches in Chichester have joined together to raise enough money to fund two schools for refugee children in Lebanon. To date, the churches have raised more than £21,000: enough to pay for one school to be built and run for a year, and "well on target" towards funding a second school.
The churches are working with Children on the Edge, a small charity also based in Chichester, which helps vulnerable children across the world. It has joined forces with a church in Lebanon to provide refugee children with schools and winter provisions.
The fund-raising efforts began 18 months ago, when Dan Slatter, a leader at Revelation church in Chichester, moved by footage of Syrian refugees in the Middle East, contacted Children on the Edge. Soon, six churches in the town were on board — Church of England, Baptist, Pioneer, Assemblies of God, and New Frontiers.
"We realised that, together, we would have more of an impact than us all sporadically giving money to different things," Mr Slatter said last month. He had been struck, he said, by the contrast between the situation of refugees in the UK and of those in Lebanon, where Syrians now make up 25 per cent of population.
Rachel Bentley, the executive director of Children on the Edge, said that the charity was "incredibly grateful" for the churches’ contributions. Many of the children who would attend the two schools would have experienced "serious trauma" after witnessing the war in Syria, she said.
The schools were "truly child-friendly spaces: welcoming, safe, and fun, with teachers trained from within [the children’s] own community. Children are beginning to develop, to work out their feelings, and tap into their natural resilience."
UN statistics suggest that 70 per cent of the more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live below the Lebanese extreme-poverty line, compared with 49 per cent in 2014; and that "food insecurity is mounting" due to the refugees’ lack of earning power.
Just over half of refugees aged six to 14 are in school, and fewer than half of these complete their primary education. Only five per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 17 attend secondary school or higher education.
"Without a robust and sustainable humanitarian response, refugees risk sinking deeper and deeper into poverty," Mireille Girard, who is the UNHCR representative in Lebanon, declared last month.