Learning, adapting and moving forward
Malak Al Ali is a 15-year-old Syrian girl who fled war-torn Syria with her family when she was nine and settled in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. Malak along with her two sisters and two brothers had very limited access to education, often not being able to travel to school because it was unsafe. When asked about that time, Malak told us, “It was hard to leave home, school, friends and neighbours, but we had to, at least we have family members in Lebanon.”
Today, Malak’s father is working, and she and her siblings are all in school. However, Malak and her family struggled to integrate into their new environment as a result of social tensions between their community and some Lebanese community members. Compounding this issue, Malak can only attend school during the afternoons due to the double shift system the Lebanese authorities have put in place to handle the demand for school places.
Her Lebanese peers, however, attend school during the mornings so the two groups very rarely, if ever, mix.
In September, Malak attended a seven-day workshop facilitated by ActionAid aimed at improving the students’ leadership skills. Being aimed at equal numbers of Syrian and Lebanese students, this was the first time Malak had the opportunity to integrate with peers from the Lebanese host community. 60 students attended the training in total and were broken down into groups of 20. “Although it was hard to adapt at first, in time the barrier was broken, and I was able to make new friends. The training also taught me a lot, it changed the way I deal with situations and ways to adjust to different situations.”
In addition to breaking down barriers between the groups, the training, which covered topics including leadership, identity, team building and the importance of collaboration, had a positive impact on Malak’s confidence, as well as her ability to deal with difficult situations at home, at school and within the community. When interviewed she told us “this training taught me a lot, it changed the way I deal with situations in school and home, how to adapt to different situations and adjust them based on my needs”. She further explained that “positivity is the key, this the first thing I took for granted, to always be positive.” The training was also an opportunity for students to discuss the roles of young men and women, with an emphasis on the fact that both genders are equally able to bring change and play equal roles in society.
Going forward, Malak and other Syrian and Lebanese students will be involved with our project as we work to assess schools against 10 key performance and accessibility criteria to identify areas for improvement and put in place initiatives to address these.