January 17, 2019

Students supporting students: Reaching youth in Arsal, Lebanon

After receiving the news in the summer of 2016 that they would receive full scholarships to their chosen higher education courses, a group of Syrian students in Lebanon breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, they understood that they were the lucky ones. Thousands of other refugee and vulnerable youth from the host country were still in search of their next opportunity.

Motivated by the opportunities they received from SPARK and other scholarship-providers, the group of new students joined forces with a common goal: to support their peers in finding higher education opportunities too.

The students formed AUSL (Association of University Students in Lebanon). AUSL is an independent, nonpartisan Syrian initiative that informs its network on up to date scholarship news, registration dates and various other education or employment opportunities available in Lebanon. In under 3 years the organic network has grown a following of over 5000 people.

What is happening in Arsal, Lebanon?
AUSL members recently contacted SPARK in order to explain the dire situation for refugees in Arsal, a remote region of Lebanon. Arsal is a small town located in the Bekaa on the Lebanese/Syrian border, which now plays host to more than 70,000 Syrians. Many people were forced to relocate from Homs and Al Kalamoun in Syria as a result of the conflict.

In 2014, Arsal witnessed clashes between ISIS and the Lebanese government, rendering the circumstances even more challenging for the vulnerable youth seeking education and employment. Public schools could no longer handle the influx of new students, unemployment rate skyrocketed, and residents and refugees urgently needed long term sustainable solutions.

Bridging the gap
AUSL made it their mission to tackle the huge lack of opportunities for both Lebanese and Syrian youth in Arsal. “The town is nothing but a stone quarry that bares hardship for everyone,” explained Mazna Al Zouhouri, founding member of AUSL, also noting that the few opportunities available to Syrians in Arsal within agriculture or small businesses, were oversubscribed by low-wage workers.

A meeting between the municipality of Arsal, lecturers from local educational institutes, SPARK and AUSL representatives was arranged. Prospective students, including Syrian refugees and vulnerable youth from Lebanon, were invited to learn about the short courses on offer with a scholarship from SPARK, application criteria and the registration process.

A new chapter
So many young people attended the sessions that AUSL representatives remained in Arsal for two days, helping each of the 1,170 applicants to complete their application forms! The selected students will start their short courses in late January 2019. They can now breathe the same sigh of relief that AUSL members were able to 2 years ago, we wish them the best of luck and hope they can continue to support others in their communities, as AUSL supported them.