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George and Amal Clooney Take a Stand for Refugee Children in Lebanon


George and Amal Clooney in New York with Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s Minister of Education.
eliasbousaab / Instagram

Following a number of anti-government protests in 2011, Syria fell into a civil war. What started as peaceful demonstrations quickly turned into one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. Earlier this year, the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria estimated that 400,000 people had lost their lives since the start of the conflict. Meanwhile, 13.5 million people are now in desperate need of humanitarian aid—and that’s not including the 4.5 million refugees seeking shelter in surrounding countries.

Let’s look at the numbers. According to Amnesty International, Turkey has taken in 2.5 million refugees as of February this year. Lebanon now hosts over a million. Jordan has opened its doors to more than 635,000; Iraq holds almost 250,000; and Egypt has welcomed more than 100,000.

Some of the five host countries have set up official refugee camps—such as the Za’atari camp in Jordan. Last month, Mercy Corps reported there are approximately 79,000 Syrians living in the camp, which has resulted in Za’atari becoming one of the country’s most populated cities. Over in Lebanon, however, the story is quite different. With no official refugee camps on Lebanese soil, there are around a million Syrians finding refuge in abandoned buildings and makeshift shelters—but the country’s dire situation is about to change.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ)—a non-profit organization established by George and Amal Clooney—has announced an initiative to educate refugee children displaced in Lebanon. “My own family left Lebanon when there was a war there, and I couldn’t have done any of the work I have done without having been able to have an education,” revealed Amal Clooney in an interview with USA Today. “We want to get every single out-of-school child in Lebanon an education,” she continued. And they’re not the only ones.

Google has donated US $1 million to the cause, while SABIS, Virgin Unite, and the Radcliffe Foundation have also teamed up to push the initiative. SABIS (a global education network) will work to open a number of pop-up schools across the areas most populated by Syrian refugees. The initiative looks to enroll up to 10,000 refugee children (as well as Lebanese youngsters without a place at school) in the first year, and has plans to increase the intake of students to 50,000 per year thereafter.

In an official statement, SABIS president Carl Bistany highlighted the potential impact of the scheme. “This project allows us to mobilize our experience and resources to give Syrian refugee children access to education so that they have a solid foundation they can continue to build on wherever they may find themselves in the future,” he revealed. Founder of Virgin Unite, Sir Richard Branson, also aired his views on the venture. “The global business community and citizens of the world must embrace refugees and migrants who have escaped the daily horrors of war in their countries with love, kindness, and access to basic rights,” he emphasized. “Access to a quality education will help vulnerable young people realize their goals and aspirations and instill in them the knowledge, skills, and hope to build a future of peace for us all,” he continued.

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