Last summer, I quit my job and left for the Middle East to learn Arabic and volunteer. It wasn’t an easy choice, and it was one that I mulled over for a long amount of time. I had a stable office job, great friends, and a good apartment. But at the same time, I felt trapped in the familiar, in what was comfortable and easy. And I was unhappy.
Just over two months ago now, I started volunteering as an English teacher with SB Overseas in Beirut, Lebanon. I was part of a volunteering program that the organisation relies on to provide remedial education to help refugee children pass entry exams for Lebanese public schools. On top of this, its centres run female empowerment classes that provide women and youth with vocational training, awareness sessions and English classes.
Before I arrived, teaching was something that I had never done before and I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I landed in Beirut late on a Sunday evening, and was told that my first class would be the following morning. What I remember most of all from my first night was being extremely nervous. In the end, my time in Beirut turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. Whilst teaching was hard and a lot of work and like everything had its ups and downs, it was also incredibly rewarding and educational and inspiring.
I was part of a team of eight volunteers, who had like me taken a break from their studies or work. Together we lived in an apartment above the Bukra Ahla centre (where we worked), located on the outskirts of the Chatila refugee camp – one of the biggest refugee camp in Lebanon. Unlike the others, who would teach the children’s classes, I was given responsibility over the English lessons to the women and youth. Although not all classes went smoothly – it was more than once that I had to tell my youth classes that no, they couldn’t just go home to watch the latest episode of their favorite Turkish TV drama – I enjoyed teaching. A lot. From week to week, I saw my students’ English improving and it was the most wonderful feeling. It gave me this sense of fulfillment.
Through my classes, I also got to meet an incredible set of adolescents and women. As I taught them clothing vocabulary, the difference between the present continuous and present simple and how to talk about hobbies, I learnt just as much from them. Despite everything that they’ve been through, the war they’ve escaped from, the families they’ve lost, and despite the many hardships they face here in Beirut – they kept going, they didn’t give up, they are determined to make something better out of the life they have been given. And I was allowed to be part of that.
Through teaching English, I learnt a lot about myself and life and what I wanted from it. And I discovered something I loved doing; I’m currently looking into getting formal qualification for Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).
Education is the corner stone to a better future. Despite government efforts to improve access to public education for refugees, it is estimated that around half of Syrian refugee children are currently not in school. This is a frighteningly high number. At the same time, women and youth often remain sidelined. SB Overseas is working to improve just this and I am extremely grateful to have had a chance to be part of their work.