A recent article based on result from an Ipsos Poll reported that two out of three Australians think that religion does more harm than good. Rev Prof Andrew Dutney explores the results of this poll and the role of the church in Australia.
Supporting Syrian education
Posted in Culture
Australia is well underway to resettling 12,000 additional refugees fleeing the Syrian and Iraqi humanitarian crisis, with churches at the forefront of welcoming newcomers into local communities.
Now attention is turning to helping the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in limbo in Lebanon, particularly the more than 200,000 children who can’t attend school due to new restrictions.
Rev Gaby Kobrossi (pictured above in a blue shirt) of Sydney’s Bankstown District Uniting Church, himself a former refugee and part of a Uniting Church delegation that recently visited Lebanon, has been instrumental in helping Syrian families to settle into Australian life and assisting those left behind.
“It’s vital that we support newcomers to find their feet when they arrive in Australia, but it is also important that we do what we can to help our Syrian brothers and sisters living in limbo in Lebanon,” Gaby says.
He and his parishioners have opened their arms to 350 Syrian settlers (with more arriving every week), hosting English lessons and conversation, sharing a weekly community meal, running bus ministry trips and providing practical assistance with everyday life such as finding housing, cars and insurance, applying for work or overcoming their past traumas.
“Our new Syrian friends here are very keen to assist their compatriots, to take action. By generously sharing with us their personal stories as refugees, they have been instrumental in helping us to understand the immense challenges facing refugees and how we can help ease those burdens,” he continues.
“Education for refugee families sheltering in Lebanon came up as a key concern. Children who have been through conflict have enough stress without also missing out on formal education and then struggling with basics like writing, reading and maths as they start to make a new life
Faced with news that at least 200,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are unable to access the overburdened public school system, UnitingWorld – the international aid arm of the Uniting Church in Australia – has stepped up to help, launching a fundraising appeal to enable Lebanese church schools to fill the huge breach.
Moving beyond collection plates or regular giving plans, UnitingWorld is using a crowdfunding approach online at chuffed.org/project/syriakids to make donating simple, encourage people to share information and motivate others to get involved, and overcome “giving fatigue” by empowering individuals to collectively make a meaningful difference to a large problem.
Working through ACT Alliance* members in the region, including the Middle East Council of Churches and local churches in Lebanon, UnitingWorld will provide additional support to enable church schools to meet the needs of Syrian refugees, focusing on training teachers and educating more refugee children while they wait for resettlement.
Rev Gaby says Christian churches in Lebanon run extensive humanitarian and refugee support
programs, and church schools currently provide what education they can for refugee children regardless of race, nationality or religion.
“However, Lebanese church school services are increasingly stretched by the high number of refugees now in Lebanon, which has more than one million Syrian refugees registered in a country that has 4.5 million citizens and is just a quarter the size of Tasmania,” he explains.
“By contributing to UnitingWorld’s Syrian Refugee Education Campaign, Australians can lay the
foundations so newcomers can settle well into our schools, make new friends and learn English quickly. [This way] they and their families can become happy, productive members of our local communities.”
While Gaby prefers terms like ‘newcomers’ or ‘new settlers' to ‘refugees’ when referring to
people now living in Australia, he encourages focusing community attention on the plight of those affected by war and disaster, including through Refugee Week from 18-24 June.
“The Uniting Church and UnitingWorld aim to create a culture of support for refugees and new settlers. We hope Australians will join with us to give whatever they can through the appeal or contact us if they can provide practical or in-kind assistance,” he says.
Former UnitingWorld National Director Rob Floyd, who visited the Middle East with Gaby and other church leaders on a fact-finding mission in January, said one in every five people currently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee and the majority of the children do not attend school.
“Nearly half (48%) of all Syrian children of primary school age living in Lebanon are out of school, along with 84% of high school-aged children†. Conservatively, this means 200,000 school-aged Syrian children currently in Lebanon are out of school‡,” Rob says.
“With UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, we wanted to mark the occasion with a significant campaign that will make a tangible difference to families living in desperate circumstances even after they’ve escaped the conflict in Syria.
“Giving a child an education is an investment in their future. From consulting with churches in Lebanon we know that $50 will help enable a Syrian child to access quality education for one term, while A$200 will help support a Syrian child through school for a year.
“The enormity of the humanitarian crisis affecting Syrians means Australians may feel helpless to assist those in need, so UnitingWorld’s crowdfunding campaign gives individuals a simple way to make a real difference by coming together and making a meaningful contribution, no matter how small,” he concludes.
*ACT Alliance is a coalition of 144 churches and church-related organisations working together in over 100 countries to create positive and sustainable change in the lives of poor and marginalised people regardless of their religion, politics, gender, sexual orientation, race or nationality in keeping with the highest international codes and standards.
† UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon 2016, 16 December 2016, available here [accessed 8 June 2017].
‡ UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNCHR Lebanon: 2016 End Year Statistical Dashboard, Dec 2016, available here [accessed 8 June 2017].
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