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Volume 8, No. 1SPRING 2005

Lebanese children find stability,
hope in IOCC education program

By Rachel Azzi, IOCC-Lebanon

Students at an IOCC health fair in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon, explain their project, which is similar to 4-H projects in the United States. The fair was one of 12 held throughout Lebanon in 2004 as part of IOCC’s school nutrition and education program. The program, serving 35,000 children in 181 public schools, continues in 2005. Photos: IOCC-Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon (IOCC) — Thirteen-year-old Rana and her 8-year-old brother, Ali, are students in Al Shiyyah Public School in Beirut, one of 181 schools being served by IOCC’s education program in Lebanon. As they speak, their eyes tell a sad story of negligence and loneliness.

“I like going to school,” Rana said, “but last year, we had to stay in the streets, my brother and I, because we had no money or food.” Even so, she shows a quiet pride and fortitude. A young girl in the fourth grade, she takes responsibility for herself and her brother, who is in second grade.

“We are like others. We have everything we need,” Rana said, trying to find some hope in their situation.

The truth is: Ali is sitting next to her wearing only a sweater — no coat for the winter, shivering from the cold. “I enjoy eating the meals they give us,” he said of the IOCC school lunch program. “I always wait for it because I usually don’t have enough money to buy food at school.”

The IOCC program, now in its fourth year, serves 35,000 underprivileged Lebanese children, providing them with nutritious lunches and lessons on personal health, hygiene and care for the environment.

So far, the impact of the project has gone well beyond the walls of the participating schools. Its seven components — nutrition, education, capacity building, advocacy, child health, infrastructure repair, and equipment — have brought hope and opportunity not only to students but also to parents, communities and local organizations.

Rana and Ali’s parents are divorced. Their father has spent more time in jail than he has at home, and their mother left them after the divorce, seeking a new life with a new husband.

Under these difficult circumstances, Rana and Ali had to search for love, care and stability on their own. But where?

At first, they stayed with their father, who left them with no food, just some money to buy junk food — a potato sandwich, a fajita sandwich or anything to ease their hunger, and only their hunger. Children at this age need healthy food and a balanced diet to ensure proper growth and development.

After a while, the father arranged for the children to live with their grandmother. The school principal said that after the move, the children started coming to school with lice. The principal called their mother, and Rana and Ali were taken back under her care. “Staying with our mother is better than with father because she looks after us and gives us food,” Rana said.

Now some teachers and the school principal are trying to help Rana and Ali by paying for their transportation, their school registration and their books. In doing do, they hope to keep Rana and Ali from living on the streets once again because of lack of money or care.

Rana and Ali said that every day they look forward to the lunches and lessons, which provide students with their minimum daily nutritional requirements and help prevent short-term hunger. The mid-morning meals also contribute to increased student productivity and lower rates of student absenteeism.

Rana (left) and Ali, a sister and brother from Beirut, Lebanon, talk about the hardships they faced after their parents’ divorce and how IOCC’s school nutrition and education program has helped them. The program, now in its fourth year serving Lebanese public schools, has seven components that address the students’ nutritional, social and educational needs.


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