Lebanon: education and care in a neighbourhood shared by Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

Project completed
Inside a classroom where a woman teacher is sitting in front of a group of children showing them a book.
Tahaddi provides vital services – particularly education – for children in a deprived neighbourhood of Beirut. © Tahaddi

The inhabitants of Hay el Gharbé in southern Beirut live in a very precarious situation. Since 2012, a number of Syrian refugees have joined their neighbourhood. The SDC supports the Lebanese NGO Tahaddi, which has made a real difference in people’s lives here – such as with its education centre, helping a large number of children to (re)discover schooling and escape their daily hardships. 

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Primary education
Primary health care
Medical services
01.08.2016 - 31.12.2021
CHF  1’270’000

Hay el Gharbé is just a few kilometres from the lively centre of Beirut. Its small makeshift houses are crammed on top of one another. People living there make their way through dusty alleyways covered by a web of electrical cables. In this deprived neighbourhood, and others nearby like the Chatila camp for Palestinian refugees, everyone is thrown together – local Lebanese, displaced Syrians, Palestinian refugees and migrant workers.

aerial view of the school in Hay el Gharbé with water tanks and tyres on the roofs of the houses.
Tahaddi carries out its activities in the deprived Hay el Gharbé neighbourhood in southern Beirut. © Tahaddi

This is where Tahaddi has set itself up. Since 2008, this Lebanese NGO has helped thousands of families facing wide-ranging problems: insecurity, exclusion from school, trauma, lack of care, etc. And the arrival of Syrian refugees since 2011 has only increased the number of vulnerable people. 

"At the beginning, we used to take care of injured children because their desperate mothers couldn't even afford to go to a chemists" explains Catherine Mourtada, a co-founder of the NGO. "But we soon realised that people’s needs were far greater. So we decided to set up a medical-social centre and an education centre." 

A safe haven in the slums 

It was in 2010 that a fully-fledged education centre started to take shape. Today, Tahaddi's schooling centre hosts more than 350 pupils in its different classes: 4 preschool, 11 primary and a hundred or so children enrolled in a programme that helps with homework.  These children, who have either had no schooling or have been forced to drop out of school, can now be educated in line with the objectives of the standard national curriculum. The teaching is also tailored to their particular social circumstances. The classes cover Arabic, English, maths, science, history, geography and IT. There are also daily classes in music, arts and crafts, theatre and P.E. Tahaddi is an inclusive centre and also has 7 special needs children. 

The main premise behind the centre is to bring normality to the lives of the children. The school’s roof serves as a playground and is the only such place in the entire neighbourhood. 

Since 2012, the Tahaddi education centre has also welcomed Syrian refugee children. Some are traumatised by their experiences in Syria, to such an extent that they are no longer able to speak normally. The sight of a helicopter flying above their heads is enough to frighten them. Like the other children with difficulties, these refugee children receive support from speech and rehabilitation therapists and psychologists. 

There is a sewing atelier for a dozen women, some of whom have children at the school. The money they make from selling their products is shared among all the women. This is part of Tahaddi's larger-scale programme covering the socio-educational needs of the families, including literacy and vocational skills development for adults.     

Health services on hand 

The Tahaddi medical-social centre is also at the heart of the neighbourhood. It was set up in 2008 and carries out over 600 free consultations every month. Medicines and lab tests are subsidised or provided at cost. Most of the cases involve hazardous work-related injuries. This is because many of the adults living in Hay el Gharbé are employed in sectors with difficult working conditions. Burns, electric shocks, rat bites and respiratory diseases are also very common. The number of children with gastroenteritis is also high. The virus can spread easily in such environments where few households have fridges or running water. 

For Dr Dany Daham, the squalor and permanent stress levels experienced by people living in Hay el Gharbé are real challenges to be addressed. Since 2008, the doctor from Beirut goes to see patients in the neighbourhood every day. "Sometimes I see severe cases of lung disease and recommend that the patient stops smoking. But how can they free themselves from this addiction in such a stressful environment? I used to smoke and know first-hand how hard it is to quit, even in my privileged situation."      

The medical-social centre is a blessing for Syrian refugees because they can obtain healthcare without needing official documents. Lebanon has stopped registering Syrian refugees entering its territory since 2015. This means they are de facto illegal, which complicates their access to public services such as healthcare. 

The SDC's support for Tahaddi is part of Switzerland's commitment to protecting particularly vulnerable people in Lebanon, regardless of their origin, race or political opinion. This support is even more crucial in a country hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees and around 174,000 Palestinian refugees. 

The SDC’s contribution to Tahaddi is augmented by financial support from the Principality of Liechtenstein. This co-funding mechanism is part of a partnership between both countries in the field of humanitarian assistance.

Nadia next to a pupil
© Tahaddi

Tahaddi's work relies on the commitment of its dedicated personnel. Some of them come from the neighbourhood itself, such as Nadia* (18 years). She went to the Tahaddi education centre before getting a job as a preschool teaching assistant. This is her story.  

FDFA Blog 

* Not her real name.