Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has launched its "Back to School" aid program in Lebanon, which will benefit 30,000 students and more than 6,000 teachers in almost 200 schools, enabling them to resume classes after the summer break.
Some 185,000 pupils, both Christian and Muslim, between the ages of 6 and 18 attend approximately 250 Catholic schools. Due to the terrible economic crisis that Lebanon is experiencing, many of the religious congregations or dioceses that run these schools are very concerned about their students’ return to the classrooms. One in ten children left school in the past academic year, either due to emigration, or financial difficulties.
ACN is convinced that the continuity of the Christian presence in Lebanon depends on keeping schools open. “Support for schools is a key response to the crisis afflicting Lebanese Christians,” said Philipp Ozores, ACN secretary general. “In this country, religious education takes place mainly in Catholic schools, rather than in parishes. If Catholic schools and teachers begin to disappear due to lack of financial means, the demographic balance will change rapidly” as the number of Christians would dwindle sharply.
The country’s financial collapse has made it impossible for many parents to pay tuition fees. Semi-public schools are also experiencing a situation of great hardship because although they are entitled to government subsidies, the Lebanese state has not covered the costs in the past four years.
“Many schools are bankrupt; they can’t afford to pay teachers and struggle to find the means to sustain themselves. The great risk is that Catholic schools will be forced to close, which would also be a long-term disaster for coexistence between religions, since these institutions play a vital role in maintaining relations between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon that are an example of coexistence for the entire Middle East,” added Ozores.
Another big problem for many schools is the power and electricity supply, which was already notoriously dysfunctional and in short supply for decades. Lebanese schools rely on access to private generators during outages, which was already a huge cost before the financial crisis. This is one of the nightmares for the operation of schools.
Projects in ACN’s “Back to School” program add up to a total of $2.28 million in aid.
ACN, which had already increased its aid to Lebanon since the massive Beirut Port explosion in August 2020, continues to prioritize the survival and subsistence of Christian communities in Lebanon, the only Arab country where Christians play a significant role in society and politics, and a place of refuge for persecuted Christians for centuries, including Armenians in the early twentieth century, and Syrians and Iraqis over the last decade.
“Until 2020, most of ACN’s funding to Lebanon was going to support Syrian refugees, but now it is Lebanese Christians who need our help,” Ozores explained.
Founded in 1947 as a Catholic relief organization for war refugees and recognized as a pontifical foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to serving Christians around the world wherever they are persecuted, discriminated against, or suffer material need, through prayer, information, and charity.
With offices in 23 countries, ACN supports an average of 6,000 projects in nearly 150 countries each year, thanks to exclusively private donations. The organization does not receive government aid.