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06 January 2017

Education for Everyone

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The south-facing window of the Saida Vocational Training Centre looks out onto a lemon orchard. The sight of the golden fruits and the smell of citrus wafting on the air transports me back to holidays on the island of Cyprus, just 155 miles away from here.

On the other side of the orchard is a less familiar sight. The camp of Ein El-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee settlement housing over 120,000 people in just one square mile, is notorious for its poor living conditions, high rates of unemployment and ongoing political violence. 40% of the students attending the centre are from this camp.

The South Saida Vocational Training Centre, supported by Muslim Hands, was established in 2003 to address the alarmingly high number of male students dropping out of school in the local area. It started off with afternoon teaching before becoming a full time VTC educating over 280 boys between the ages of 14 and 20. The courses on offer here include accountancy, mechanics, computer maintenance and IT systems, literacy, electronics, heating and cooling systems.
These courses ensure students can acquire the qualifications and experience to go into further study or to find a decent job where they can earn a good, sustainable income. 18-year-old mechanics students, Hasan and Ahmed are both sponsored by Muslim Hands. They want to go on to study mechanics at university once they leave. 17-year old Mohammad, also sponsored by MH, is receiving top grades in his electronics class and would like to become an electrical engineer and run his own business.
However, it’s not just educational support that the centre offers these young men. The Head of the Department for Character Development tells us that a lot of boys who drop out of school face issues of low self-esteem. He continues, ‘It’s very important to address these problems. That’s why we give lessons on ethics and behaviour, have a programme of social activities as well as supervisors who are there to provide emotional support and build up the student’s confidence’.

Mahmoud Asfar came to the centre aged 16, after his teacher told him he would fail in school. Now aged 24, he is a mechanics teacher here and is passionate about giving others who have dropped out of school the opportunity to excel. Laughing, he tells us that even some of his former school teachers have been shocked by his success!
Visiting the different classrooms and workshops, you can understand why the centre is going from strength to strength. The resources are top-notch, (the mechanics workshop, for example is number one in Lebanon) and the staff really know their stuff (head of computers worked on systems for the UN for twenty years).
It’s real success, however, is that it really does feel like one big family. The atmosphere is friendly and informal, students seem genuinely enthusiastic about what they are learning and the teachers are just as passionate. It all goes to show that with the right nurture and care, every child can achieve their potential.

Tijen Horoz, member of the Muslim Hands Fundraising team, reporting from Lebanon.

Muslim Hands supports a variety of education projects across the world including vocational training centres, purpose-built schools for orphans and educational facilities in emergency locations.

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Established in 1993, Muslim Hands is an international aid agency and NGO working in over 50 countries worldwide to help those affected by natural disasters, conflict and poverty.

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