International charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has announced the launch of a large-scale campaign for Catholic schools in Lebanon t help offset the significant economic crisis that has been bleeding the country’s social institutions dry, especially those related to the Catholic Church.
“Lebanon has suffered due to the most serious devaluation of its currency in history. There is massive emigration, and basic social services are falling apart”, explains Philipp Ozores, general secretary of ACN, following a visit to the country. “This represents the greatest threat to the Christian presence in the past decades.”
Lebanon is now the only country in the Middle East with a large Christian community (with the exception of Egypt), following the exodus of Christians from Iraq and Syria.
Prevent the collapse of a social pillar
ACN’s help is a response to the call that Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, addressed to different Catholic aid organizations from all over the world.
The goal of the campaign is to save more than 90 schools from immediate closure, including 61 schools in rural areas and poor neighbourhoods of Beirut and 19 technical schools in crisis distributed throughout the country. ACN has approved an aid package of close to 2.25 million dollars.
Furthermore, adds the Secretary General of ACN, an important pillar of social and cultural cohesion, in what is an already fragmented country, would be lost. Catholic schools in Lebanon are open to all, and in Muslim-majority regions up to 90% of students are Muslims. “The Church in Lebanon has been promoting education for Muslims and Christians for generations. This has had a positive effect on the mindset of many Lebanese, functioning as a bulwark against the sort of religious fanaticism and extremism that we have seen in other parts of the Arab world.”
Until about two years ago, school fees were paid for by families, but the teaching staff was financed by the government. Due to the financial and economic crisis, parents have been unable to afford the fees and the Lebanese government has not paid its part for quite some time. In some cases, schools have already gone four years without state help and can no longer pay their teachers. “There is a big risk that they will be forced to shut down,” says Ozores.
More Than 2000 Teachers Have Left the Country
In a first phase, ACN has committed to supporting these more than 90 schools through 12 aid programs. Part of this aid will be in the form of scholarships for students from the most vulnerable families, ranging between 25% and 70% of the total student body, depending on the school. This will relieve families that are currently unable to pay their fees because of the crisis.
Another part is emergency help for teachers and members of the school’s administrative staff. The goal is to make up for the loss in real value of their salaries due to the devaluation of the local currency, thereby reducing pressure to emigrate.
“Providing the staff of these Church institutions with a stable salary is one of the pillars of the ACN programs,” Philipp Ozores explains. Over 2,000 primary and secondary school teachers have left Lebanon in recent months, looking for jobs in Europe or in the Arab Gulf. The current average salary for a headmaster has dropped from $1,281 a month to a mere $64.
ACN’s aid will allow them to afford basics which at the moment are simply beyond reach, such as fuel to drive to school. Some schools are not operating on a five-day system and, in some cases, staff are permitted to sleep on-site to reduce costs.
In recent years, ACN aid to Lebanon has centred on supporting Christian refugees from the Syrian Civil War. In 2020 and 2021 the organization massively increased its aid towards the restoration of Catholic buildings in Beirut following the explosion in the port, as well as emergency help for vulnerable families. ACN will continue to help in these fields and to offer pastoral and spiritual support to strengthen and provide hope to Christians in Lebanon, especially youth, but also priests, seminarians and members of religious orders.