School representatives mull violence-free institutions

school representatives mull violencefree institutions in lebanon School representatives mull violence free institutionsRepresentatives from suburban Beirut schools presented projects aimed at preventing violence in their classrooms and communities Thursday, at the closing event of a United Nations Development Program initiative to counter rising crime in educational institutions.

The projects come amid rising tensions due to the large numbers of Syrian children now enrolled in Lebanese schools.

The EU-funded project focused on Beirut’s suburbs due to the rise in delinquency, drug use and violations of public property by local public school students. It aims to prevent school violence, integrate peace-building concepts into local communities, and create a culture of tolerance in classrooms hosting Lebanese and Syrian students.

“We want schools that are free of violence, where principles of respect and tolerance are present, and where diversity is appreciated,” said UNDP Country Director Luca Renda, at the closing event of the “Violence Free School Activity in Beirut Suburbs” initiative.

“We know schools have become more mixed and that there has been an influx of new students the last couple of years,” she added, “but our efforts to give educational skills and tools can be used at the school level, and even in life’s circumstances in general.”

Dr. Alexis Loeber, head of the cooperation section in the European Union delegation to Lebanon contended that “any other country would have collapsed a long time ago if faced with the same pressures. We have made extraordinary efforts to try and peacefully coexist with one another.”

The event was attended by municipality heads, project managers, students, parents, teachers, school personnel and potential donors.

A total of five projects were presented by committees of parents, teachers and students representing their respective schools.

“The ideas of the projects are linked specifically to problems the committees have seen or been exposed to at the local level,” said Joanna Nassar, project manager of the UNDP’s Peace Building in Lebanon project.

“We did not want to impact the ideas and plans of the committees working on the projects.”

The first project, from the Shiyah First Public School, looks to counter rising drug abuse among youth in the southern suburbs with activities to raise awareness among students including staging a play on the consequences of drug abuse.

A second initiative presented the Ghobairi Public Intermediate Mixed School would combat the vandalization of public spaces in the neighborhood, and would start with a renovation of the school’s public garden.

A third project, presented by teachers of schools in Furn al-Shubbak, will try to encourage authorities to give fair treatment to both Lebanese citizens and immigrants in the area.

“Because Furn al-Shubbak is one of the regions that faces great pressure from the increase of Syrian refugees, the project aims to ensure the integration and peaceful coexistence between Lebanese and Syrians, as well as ensure the principles of human dignity,” a committee member said.

“The problem is that we are not able to see the problem. Students need to be aware of their behavior, especially with regard to Syrian refugees.”

A fourth project, from the Burj al-Barajneh Intermediate Public School, aims to counter the increase in drug abuse, violence, dropouts and misbehavior among students. “One of our 9-year-old students has even seen someone inject himself with drugs,” said one of the presenting teachers. The project aims to improve the school environment by refusing admission to dropouts and drug dealers and reestablishing trust and respect among students.

The final project, presented by teachers from Haret Hreik Secondary School for Boys, hopes to change perspectives of public spaces and public schools.

“Nowadays all parents prefer to send their kids to private schools,” said a school representative. “We need to change the image people have of public schools too.”

© The Daily Star 2015

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