Lebanese school for the deaf is taking in Syrian refugees


Father Andeweg Institute for the Deaf (FAID) teacher in a classroom with pupils, Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Barry Gunning.

A former Irish soldier is helping raise thousands of euro for a school for deaf children in Lebanon which is taking in terrified refugees from war-torn Syria.

Big-hearted Christy Kinsella (62) set up Lebanon Trust which gives vital assistance to the Father Andeweg Institute for the Deaf (FAID) in Beirut which caters for more than 70 local kids including 11 who have fled across the border from Syria.

Dubliner Christy and friends set up the charity in 2009 to help poor families he met while serving on UN peacekeeping duties in Lebanon.

Lebanon Trust volunteers regularly travel to Beirut and recently delivered funds to help hire a speech therapist while tradesmen on the trip carried out repairs to the FAID school grounds.

Christy said: "We provide financial support and practical work and we rely on a network of volunteers.”

School director Krikor Khasholian said: "We are so grateful for all the support we get from Ireland because it wouldn't be possible to run our school without this assistance."

The conflict in Syria was sparked by a brutal crackdown by President Bashar Assad on peaceful protests against four decades of rule by his family. The UN estimated last year that it had killed over 100,000 people, many of who were children. Although thousands of deaths may have occured since, the UN has stopped providing estimates due to the difficulty of verifyng sources.

Syrian pupil Achmad (13) from Damascus was forced to flee the country after his school was destroyed in a bomb.

He said: "Soldiers came and took away children. I had to leave the country with my four sisters and three brothers. I was terrified."

Syrian siblings Samia (10) and Hamad (6) and have also been forced to flee the neighbouring country for safety.

Samia said: "We came to Lebanon to start a new life because it is too dangerous in Syria at the moment."

School director Krikor said: "We cannot turn away the children from Syria because they need our support and so we welcomed them into our classrooms."

In April, Unicef Ireland reported that the number of children affected overall by Syria's war had doubled in the past year to 5.5m - and many were trapped in besieged conflict zones.

Officials said hundreds of thousands were living in rubble and struggling to find food without access to medical care or education.
The children in the FAID school in Beirut are among hundreds of thousands of families forced to flee Syria because of the ongoing conflict in their native country.

The UNHCR said a total of 56,400 Syrians sought asylum in 44 countries in 2013 compared to 25,200 in 2012 and 8,500 in 2011. The UNHCR registered over 950,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone - the largest per capita recipient - and warned that the figure would reach 1.5 million by the end of this year.

The FAID school is supported by the Lebanese government but desperately depends on donations from Ireland and elsewhere in order to run its day-to-day activities.

Former Defence Forces soldier Christy said volunteers in Ireland raise funds by holding charity events and some travel on annual visits to the projects to see where the money goes.

He added: "We always pay our own expenses such as flights and food - the accommodation is free as we stay with friends.

"All donors are sent detailed regular reports on where their money goes."

FAID was founded in 1957 by Dutch Anglican priest Rev Arie J Andeweg who devoted his life to training deaf people to maximise their quality of life.

The facility is a private, non profit organization with no political affiliations and is now considered a model school in the Middle East.

Donations can be made by credit card, PayPal account or bank transfer at http://www.lebanontrust.org/en/donate.html

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