A TFL Alumna’s Educational Start-up

Lamis Akouch is an alumna of TFL’s 10th cohort of Fellows (2018–2020).

Lamis is currently working on an app she created called Sanabel (“seed” in Arabic). She describes it as a “channel for children to learn in a fun and safe environment.” Sanabel’s aim is to boost the emotional intelligence of children and teach them life skills through interactive storytelling.

Lamis explains that emotional intelligence encompasses a range of soft skills including leadership, communication skills, and anger management, and emphasizes that they are highly valuable in both professional and personal contexts. And yet, “these skills are not taught in school,” she says. This is one of the reasons the app is called Sanabel. What happens to us during our formative years will stick with us for the rest of our lives – that’s why it’s so important to teach the right lessons early on. The lessons Sanabel delivers are meant to function as a seed that will positively influence the future personality and behavior of the children using the app. 

When I ask her how the idea for this project came to her, Lamis tells me about her background. She holds masters’ degrees in both educational technology and educational psychology. Throughout her Fellowship with TFL, Lamis kept asking herself how she could combine these three passions – education, technology, and psychology. This app is her answer to that question.

Her team includes experts in all three fields. They work together to select and create stories and puppet shows that are psychologically healthy for children and will teach them important life lessons. For example, they wrote a story (and created a puppet show) designed to teach kids about anger management. The story gives kids strategies for dealing with their anger such as “I need to take a deep breath,” “I need to think: ‘What was the issue that made me angry?’” “I need to describe the issue and tell you what made me angry.”

Throughout the stories and puppet shows, kids using the app are prompted to answer questions about what’s happening on screen. These questions help them understand the lesson the story is conveying and help the Sanabel team evaluate whether the lesson is being conveyed.

The app and the stories it features are in “Fus’ha” (formal Arabic). One reason for this is to teach children how to use “proper Arabic”; another is to make the app accessible to Arabic-speaking children anywhere.

It seems Sanabel is working. When they surveyed the parents of the children using the beta version of the app, the Sanabel team found that 62% of them believed the app was having a positive influence on the mindset and behavior of their children.

The journey to where Lamis is now has not been easy. Sanabel is a self-funded, ad-free app, and Lamis has turned part of her house into a studio to create content. Despite previous failures to start this kind of project, Lamis did not give up, and now children throughout the world are using her app.

When asked what she wants to say to current and prospective fellows, Lamis tells the story of how she came to take on the TFL Fellowship. When she was offered a spot as a Fellow she also had another job offer to teach at an elite Lebanese private school. It was a decision between the easy and more remunerative path and following her dreams and passions. “Looking back,” Lamis says, “TFL was definitely the right decision.” She cites the personal and professional development she received from TFL, the relationships she formed throughout her fellowship, the openness of the organization to listen to its people and try new things, and the feeling that the work she did was helping people.

“People are dying,” Lamis concludes, “and their dreams and their ambitions are dying with them. I need to give all my potential and all my abilities and all my capabilities before I die. I want to die empty. I need to die empty: this is what I want to tell them.”

You can find Sanabel on Google Play (available for Android devices). If you wish to support Sanabel through cash or donations of equipment, or if you are interested in joining the Sanabel team, please contact Lamis at Lamis.akouch@teachforlebanon.org.

A Year After the Beirut Port Explosion, Our Journey Toward Collective Recovery Continues

A little before 6:00 pm on August 4, 2020, a large quantity of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of Beirut caught fire. When a response team arrived at the scene, unaware of what they were really dealing with, they reported: “There’s something wrong here; there’s a crazy sound and a huge fire.”(1) A few minutes later, Beirut was devastated by one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history. At least 200 people were killed and 7000 injured, and over 300, 000 lost their homes. Moreover, this happened in the midst of an ongoing political and economic crisis, at one of the most difficult times for Lebanon since the civil war. Yet in the face of catastrophe the citizens of Beirut came together in solidarity: they volunteered en masse to clean up debris; they formed ad hoc relief organizations (Nation Station, for instance) to address the needs of affected communities; and they opened their homes to those who no longer had any. 

It’s now been a year since the Beirut port explosion. On this occasion we mourn those who passed away; we stand with those who lost loved ones, lost their homes, or suffered injuries; and we celebrate the kindness, resilience, and bravery the Lebanese people have demonstrated in the face of this tragedy. 

This is also the time when, as an organization, we look back at our own response to the Beirut port explosion and its aftermath. Teach For Lebanon (TFL) responded to the Beirut Blast in a number of ways. The most systematic of these is the Build Back Better (BBB) initiative. The BBB was designed with four components: 

Kit distribution

From the fourth quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, with DHL’s support, TFL distributed 1000 hygiene and stationery packs to students affected by the blast. 

The School Community Support Training Program

The School Community Support Training Program (SCSTP) was designed and implemented in partnership with Nafsaniyoun to help teachers (including TFL Fellows) and other school workers identify and address mental health issues in their students. Between February 3, 2021, and March 4, 2021, over 500 teachers and administrative workers in 165 schools throughout Lebanon attended 30 hours of training sessions (led by experts in education and psychology) supplemented by five hours of personal readings and reflections. 

Psychosocial Support 

TFL’s partnership with Nafsaniyoun also includes psychosocial support sessions for parents, students, and teachers affected by the Beirut port explosion (as well as the other crises Lebanon has been experiencing). This component of the BBB initiative is ongoing. By the end of summer 2021, we will have provided psychosocial support to over 200 beneficiaries. 

Homework Support and Tutoring/Laptop Donations

Originally, the fourth component of the BBB initiative was intended to be homework support and tutoring provided to student beneficiaries by TFL Fellows and alumni. Although we reached over 70 students, we eventually opted, due to the pandemic and ensuing school closures and lockdowns, to reroute funds from this pillar of the initiative toward purchasing laptops and distributing them among schools where our Fellows serve.(2)

Another way in which TFL responded to the Beirut port explosion was by organizing a student art competition in two schools Sahaguian and Dr. Wadih El Samad. The competition launched in December 2020. For the student participants, the goal was to produce artwork on the theme of rebuilding Lebanon “with will and hope,” with an emphasis on the values of justice, transparency, and equality. The 61 student participants were free to create art, poetry, music, or videos to convey their vision of a better Lebanon. The overall aim of the competition was to give student participants an opportunity to heal, to give them space to creatively express their feelings and thoughts about everything that had happened to their country, and to reward them for that. 

Finally TFL has consistently addressed the Beirut port explosion through the work of our fellows. TFL Fellows are not simply school teachers, they are community leaders. As a result, Fellows function as pillars of support for the communities they serve in. They make themselves available to meet with students, parents, and school staff to tackle any issues that might arise. On top of this, they regularly organize extracurricular activities (ECAs), both in and out of the classroom, to meet the needs of their communities. These ECAs  range from collaborations with network partners, to programs designed to raise awareness of and reduce gender-based violence, to protests. 

In the last year, many of our Fellow’s ECAs directly or indirectly responded to the blast. One example of this is an ECA led by our Fellows at Sahaguian college (Fatima Shahrour, Danielle Jreije, and Dany Webbeh), by which they incorporated “self-care” and “self-confidence” sessions in their daily classes. Over the course of the year, they were able to identify issues in classes they have in common. These issues varied from trauma as a result of current events all the way to depression and lack of confidence. In response, they took the initiative to organize support sessions offering a safe place for students to express their feelings and open up. 

A parallel project run by the Sahaguian Fellows was designed to raise awareness about mental health issues in their school community. In order to do this, the Fellows supervised Grade 12 students as they prepared a presentation to be  delivered to the Sahaguian community. This presentation revolved around the topic of mental health in relation to academic life (exams, homework, university applications, etc.). At the end of the session, the audience was presented with a set of challenges called “the 7 keys to self-love” and including items like “call an old friend” and “do something that makes you happy.” The goal of these challenges was to help the person doing them feel better both physically and mentally. 

To conclude, although a year has passed, we’re still very much in the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion. Lebanon remains devastated – not only by the rippling effects of the blast, but also by crippling economic and political crises, and by the pandemic. Fortunately, these crises have made us even stronger and more resilient than we were before, and we’ve learned from them. We’ve learned, among other things, the importance of catering to the mental health of the people who work for us, as well as of our beneficiaries. Accordingly, we are beginning to brainstorm new projects in line with our partnership with Nafsaniyoun. We want to make the kind of professional development our fellows received through SCSTP an integral part of their training, and psychosocial support is something we should look to provide as consistently as possible. We look forward to the future, because in order for Lebanon to recover, our mission is more important than ever. If we want a better Lebanon, we have to raise the generation of leaders who will build it anew, and we have to do so now. 

(1) https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/8/8/how-beirut-firefighters-were-sent-into-disaster

(2) We have incidentally just launched a campaign to raise additional funding for this project. If you are interested in supporting that cause, you can do so here.

A TFL Alumna’s Journey of Impact

Nagham Al Banna is an alumna of TFL’s 10th cohort of fellows (2018–19).

Nagham works as a field manager for Rural Entrepreneurs for the Aley area. The project she is currently focused on aims to create income-generating activities and flexible work opportunities to support vulnerable (Lebanese and Syrian refugee) households and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in rural areas of the Shouf and Aley districts by providing training on sewing and selling PPE items and other fashionable and affordable fabric-made items.” Nagham is also working with Women Ascension to give trainings on soft skills (like leadership and emotional intelligence); training youth on entrepreneurship; and, having received a scholarship through TFL, pursuing a masters in rural community development at the American University of Beirut.

Can you describe your project? Its objectives? What are the ways in which these objectives are achieved? What have your outcomes been?

The project was inspired by the socioeconomic context imposed by both the pandemic and the economic crisis, which pushed thousands of households into poverty and forced hundreds of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to lay off work or shut down.

The project capitalizes on increased market demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) (such as masks) to create new income-generating activities and flexible work opportunities for vulnerable (Lebanese and Syrian refugee) households in rural areas and to support SMEs in related fields.
The project has two streams: (1) vulnerable household support, and (2) M/SMEs support. The first stream aims to support highly vulnerable households living in the target areas by training them on producing and selling PPEs and other fabric-made items. The training is structured so as to provide an array of technical and practical skills as well as basic business knowledge, with the aim of empowering households to secure livelihoods even after the project ends. The second stream provides aid to SMEs producing PPEs or other items related to pandemic management (such as sanitizers and sanitizing machines) through in-kind and technical support (such as consulting on how to build more sustainable business models and access new markets). The project also creates new partnerships and linkages between micro, small, and medium enterprises; households; and active local partners to ensure sustainability of project activities and impact.

What does this work look like? Where are you working? Who are your beneficiaries?

I am a field manager at Rural Entrepreneurs in Aley district. For this project, I coordinate stream (1) support in the area, oversee the implementation of the project, and ensure all preset criteria and outcome targets are met.

As mentioned earlier, the beneficiaries of stream (1) are vulnerable Lebanese and Syrian refugee households living in rural areas and looking to improve their standard of living through learning, working, and/or becoming entrepreneurs. 
At Rural Entrepreneurs we also work with youth aspiring to become entrepreneurs or working on their startups.

What motivated you to start doing this work? 

I’m passionate about women and youth empowerment and I’m pursuing a master’s degree in rural community development at AUB. The SEW project is helping me better understand the challenges rural people are facing and allowing me to be a part of potential solutions. 

What keeps you motivated to do this work?

Seeing its impact on people’s lives, feeling how much they’re grateful for opportunities that help them improve their livelihoods, and feeling how much they’re willing to learn and work hard when they get such opportunities – this is what keeps me motivated. 

We are living in extremely harsh economic conditions and I believe it’s our duty, as individuals and organizations, to support whoever is in need.

Do you see a link between your fellowship and what you’re doing now? If yes, can you describe it?

I can sum up my fellowship at Teach for Lebanon, in one word: IMPACT. Though I’m no longer working specifically with students, my journey of impact continues. I’ll always be equipped with the TFL values, and I will hold those values no matter where I go. I can’t help but recall the famous saying: “Once a TFLer, always a TFLer.”

Do you have anything to say to current fellows and/or to prospective fellows? 

I believe we all want to be good humans but not every day do we get the chance to be able to empower, heal, and teach one another. I believe TFL gives one the platform to experience his/ her humanity; it gets one to know himself/herself better and explore his/her potential. I encourage TFL fellows to make the best out of this experience, which can turn their whole journey into a very special one, a long lasting journey that doesn’t end after the two-year fellowship. I would also like to encourage TFL fellows to deal with students as if they are what they ought to be until they become what they are capable of becoming. 

Nagham at work, conducting a training with rural communities.

Nagham as a Fellow, with her students in Aley, on World Clean Up Day.

The Words of Three Mothers

It’s International Women’s Day! On this occasion, we heed the words of three women: Dalia, Hiam, and Nadwa, as they discuss the impact of the coronavirus, the financial crisis, and online education on them and their families.

Interview with Dahlia Khalifeh, the mother of Karim (grade 8) taught by fellow Hasan Ghaddar and Yasmina (grade 6) taught by fellows Malak Ajram and Zeinab Gharieb at the Al-Haidareya school in Sarafand.

How has Covid-19 affected you and your family?
Social distancing has limited our interactions with extended family and friends. In an Arab community where close relationships tend to be quite physical, this has been harsh. Many people have suffered abuse in their homes due to the situation. However, this has also been a good thing for many people, including myself. It has strengthened the bonds between myself, my husband, and my children, and it has helped us invent new pastimes and pushed us to cook and try out new food.

What are your thoughts about the economic state of the country and how have you adapted to it, if you’ve changed anything at all?
The economic state of Lebanon has been deteriorating for over a year. We have reached a point at which we are only able to acquire our absolute necessities, and even this is hard. Many of these basic necessities are becoming unaffordable, and some of them, including medications and food products like sugar and vegetable oil, are becoming hard to find or even disappearing. It will take time and patience for us to acclimatize to the current situation. It’s especially difficult for those who, like myself, would do anything to get their children what they’re asking for

What hardships have you faced while securing online education for your children, and what are your thoughts about the current prevalence of online education?
Online education is a great idea in itself but it needs support from both the school and the household. Children often have trouble understanding online lessons, and when their parents are unable to help them they are forced to hire teachers to do so. In my opinion, a classroom is better for a child. It allows the child to interact with other people, form new ideas, and engage in discussions. All of this builds a student’s personality more than sitting behind a screen all day. Hopefully we get to return to our normal lives when the coronavirus is finally out of the way.

Interview with Mrs. Nadwa Hussein, a teacher and mother of Lana (grade 5) and Enass (grade 8) taught by fellows Zeinab Gharieb, Hasan Ghaddar and Malak Ajram at Al-Haidareya School in Sarafand.

How did the pandemic, the lockdown, and the Lebanese financial crisis affect your life and that of your family? 
Fortunately I’ve been able to manage my time, take care of my family, and do my job as a teacher. 

In your opinion, what sacrifices have these issues caused women at home to make?
I’ve had to sacrifice a lot, not least by limiting interactions with friends and family at the expense of my mental health.

In one word, how would you describe women?
Women are sacrificers.

Interview with Mrs. Hiam Gharib, mother of Zainab (grade 4) and Ahmad (grade 2) attending Al-Imam Ali School.

How did the pandemic, the lockdown, and the Lebanese financial crisis affect your life and that of your family? 
The situation has been tough, and I’ve had to work hard. On top of household chores and cooking, I’ve had to teach my children. Sometimes the pressure was so great that I forgot to take care of myself. 

In your opinion, what sacrifices have these issues caused women at home to make?
On top of the responsibilities of mothers and housewives, they have also assumed those that would normally fall to the school. Women are happy when their family is happy, and sad when it is sad, so in these difficult times they must work especially hard to keep their families and themselves happy.

In one word, how would you describe women?
A woman is strong, like a mountain.

A Fellow’s Road to Happiness

In a letter of appreciation to TFL CEO Salyne El Samarany, Lucienne Nader, TFL fellowship alumna (cohort 8, 2016–2018), reflects upon her fellowship, her achievements and successes since, and the meaning of happiness.

“Happiness is not success… it is the road to it” – Nadine Labaki.

This is not just any quote; this is from the speech the famous Lebanese director and artist Nadine Labaki gave at my undergraduate graduation ceremony from the American University of Beirut, from which I earned a bachelor’s degree in medical science. These words have stayed with me and inspired me ever since. The road to success is happiness: indeed, it is the road of experiences learned, of trials and errors and of building who you are and who you will be. You build your happiness in life, and, since 2016, Teach For Lebanon has helped me build my happiness. 

My fellowship experience with Cohort 8 at TFL was an exceptionally enriching phase in my life. I gained so much: first, from the extensive summer training institute, where TFL’s team along with specialized instructors passed along their skills and expertise in teaching, project planning, teamwork, soft skills, and much more; and, second, from my two years of teaching experience at Paradis d’Enfants, Jounieh, a school for underprivileged students with social, familial, and/or financial difficulties, where I was a biology teacher for grades 3 and 4, and teaching assistant in math for grades 1, 2 and 3. 

As fellows, we were requested to do an extracurricular project with our students during these two years. Despite all the teaching responsibilities I had during and after working hours, I went beyond my limits and beyond a simple, one-and-done activity. My project ended up being complex and multifaceted, and remained ongoing even after my fellowship was over.

When I first tried to launch this project, no one from the school encouraged me. On the contrary, they said, “you can’t change anything at Paradis d’Enfants.” I didn’t stop at their words. I worked on my project proposal and asked for a meeting with the principal. In spite of what I’d been told, over the course of several discussions, the principal encouraged my ideas. It seems they had only needed someone to take the initiative. 

I worked on a “four pillars” anti-bullying project. The first pillar was identifying and addressing students’ bullying thoughts and issues through group work and reflection; the second pillar was a book collection and library renovation effort meant to create a peaceful escape for bullied students during recess; the third pillar empowered parents through digital literacy workshops for cyberbullying; and the fourth pillar consisted of awareness sessions from the NGO No Label. Both the school and the parents loved the results of this project. When I left, I handed all my materials to the school so that any teacher or future fellow could use them and continue these sessions. 

Parents’ empowerment through digital literacy
workshops for cyberbullying
Book collection and library renovation

After my fellowship with TFL, I earned a scholarship from the University of Balamand to attend a Masters in Public Health. While completing this degree, I worked as a laboratory technician at the Central Military Laboratories of the Lebanese Army, and I chose my thesis project to be an “Assessment of Quality and Risk Management at the Central Military Laboratories.” Recommendations from this assessment would be taken into consideration to improve my workplace’s workflow and conditions.  

From the experiences I accumulated over the course of my undergraduate studies, my Teach For Lebanon fellowship, my job as a laboratory technician, and my graduate studies, I can say: First, no matter what people tell you, believe in your goal, and in yourself, and you will reach that goal. Second, never seek after happiness in a job title or a degree; it is indeed the road to your achievements and successes that brings you happiness.

Lucienne and her grade 3 ‘Star Scientists’ with their certificates during “Le scientifique de la semaine”
“I just love these photos from my graduation from the TFL fellowship. I want to especially thank my mentor Caroline (picture on the top), who helped me through a lot of difficulties on my path, and my two idols Dr. Lina Harati and TFL CEO Salyne El Samarani, who provided me with lots of support and expertise.”

Teach For Lebanon Fellowship Impact on Youth

Dayana Mansour is a second-year Fellow teaching English at Tahwitat Al Ghadir Public School in Mount Lebanon. Her drive stems from the purpose to aid refugee children by focusing on their psychological well-being and access to quality education.

Would you say the Fellowship gave you mental strength? Why?

Although the Summer Institute provided us with all the necessary trainings needed for a well-prepared teaching experience, becoming a “real” school teacher included a great number of unexpected challenges. 

As a new teacher, having to combat hesitation and self-doubt definitely amplified my mental strength throughout the Fellowship. I found myself in a new foreign environment; fluctuating circumstances and different lessons learned taught me to embrace my vulnerabilities and grow resilience to make sure my students received the support they needed.

How did you surmount problems? What were they?

I came across different obstacles throughout the school year, some demanding harder work and others demanding empathy, patience and understanding. Many students had difficulties grasping a second language which not only required an all-inclusive lesson plan but also confidence-boosting activities and motivational speeches inside the classroom. Students who had given up on the English language needed both a shift in mindsets and a twist in the teaching style that brought the language closer to them.

Many students came from broken homes which is why their behaviors ranged between extreme defiance, nervousness, and inattention. Understanding the backgrounds of those students and what yielded such behaviors was much more effective than turning away from them. Some students went through painful events that were heartbreaking; it was important that I build personal emotional resilience in order to provide influential objective support to them.

Why was this a memorable life-experience?

I have learned from my students not much less than what they’ve learned from me and that’s what made this fellowship a memorable life experience. I’ve taught students who in the face of adversity, unstable living circumstances, and disorganized families still chose to commit to learning.

What advice would you give a first-year Fellow?

You will, at one point, ask yourself if whether or not you can live up to this responsibility; believe that you can!  Always replace self-doubt with effort. Both the students and other teachers can benefit from your knowledge, so make sure you pledge to supporting them.

How did becoming a teaching Fellow make you a good leader?

Knowing that I was able to reach a number of students in multiple ways is equivalent to good leadership, in my opinion. I’ve observed the impact on some students, it went beyond the classroom walls. I’ve seen some students become more hopeful, some read their first words and others starting to believe in themselves. My purpose was to make students feel like they’re heard, and capable. That was achieved through creating a warm and welcoming classroom environment where no student felt unaided or overlooked.

Teaching Refugee Students: a Challenge & a Responsibility

Sara Kassab, Cohort 10, Shares about her experience teaching Syrian refugees in Baalbeck

Teaching refugee students is, in itself, a challenge and a responsibility. Refugees come from a different background then mine and that was one of the challenges I faced. Their lives and experiences are quite unlike mine. However, being aware of these differences was the first step towards unlocking my students’ true needs. I have seen that Education is not about teaching students how to read, write, and/or count, but it is about equipping them and empowering them to find their own solutions to their problems.

Two years ago, I joined Teach For Lebanon (TFL) to be part of a global movement: to ensure all students receive quality education. Now, after two years, I have grown to be more committed to this belief.

I started my Fellowship with TFL in Baalbek. I taught English, Math, and Sciences to Early Childhood Syrian Learners for two years at “Ana Aqra Association”. They also share the same belief of equitable education for all. I decided to stay for a third year with them, after my two-year TFL journey ended. I have developed a passion for education! So much so that I am also pursuing an MA in Education at AUB, thanks to the scholarship opportunity provided by TFL.

During my first year teaching, I had decided to unlearn all the previous concepts, prejudgments and solutions that I had readily prepared for my students. Instead, I decided that it was their time to speak up and make their voices heard in my classroom and outside of it. That is, I decided to unlock their leadership skills and let them lead their way towards their own future.

The students embraced the “superhero” present within each of them. They had the chance to express their potentials by choosing their desired superpower. It is just amazing how their choices always involved bringing happiness to their loved ones. From that point on, I knew that they were aware of what was needed in their community and, as a teacher, it was my responsibility to cater for my class and help them meet their needs.

The second year, my teaching techniques changed; they needed to change to meet the needs of my students. I felt that my students needed to improve their critical thinking skills to be able to find the solutions to their problems. More importantly, there was no such thing as a small problem. In one of our PSS sessions during the week, we were discussing the importance of brushing our teeth, until one of my students interrupted me saying: “we don’t always have toothpaste at home, what do I do?” Accordingly, we researched, looked at the products they had at home and tried to see together what would work best as an alternative. An older version of myself would have just suggested a solution, but I knew by that point that this is not what my students needed.

Planning and utilizing the learning processes to help the students own their future made the entire learning process more fun. Students were motivated to come to school and discuss how learning can help them in their personal lives. After two years, I can proudly say that I am not the same person that started this journey, and that my students helped me improve my teaching!

On Virtual Teaching and More

Cohort 11 Fellow Mohamad Said answers Cohort 12 Fellow-to-be Ruba Hemade’s questions about the Fellowship and what awaits her!

Mohamad in his classroom before the Covid-19 Pandemic
  • Based on your experience, how can we approach sensitive topics that the students might be anxious about such as the crisis, the explosion, and the revolution?

There is nodoubt that these topics are very sensitive and the teacher must handle them in an objective way considering the different reactions that the students may have.  If they had opinions regarding any sensitive topic, I will let them know that we can talk about anything that they feel like sharing about. However, to be able to maintain good classroom management and a positive classroom environment, we set boundaries and rules to what to discuss and how to interact with others who have a different opinion than ours (for example, political discussions). Therefore, I will lead the conversation by asking the right questions or introducing the topic in a certain way that makes them understand the situation and then to hear their opinions.

For example, last year the revolution started in Lebanon and the students were very curious to know my opinion regarding the political events happening around that time. I told them that these events can happen in any country and we should be able to talk rationally about it and understand the causes and factors. We focused on the triggers that lead the Lebanese people to revolt such as, the economic situation. After that, I answered some questions in a very objective way and we moved on to the lesson.

Students should be safe, respected and appreciated when sharing their thoughts and feelings. We should always remember that we can’t solve all of their problems and we should always refer them to professional help upon their approval and their parents’ consent when needed.

  • Since Lebanon is not well equipped for online learning, what challenges did you face and how did you handle them?

I faced a lot of challenges that made our job harder and more challenging. The most important one is that most of the parents didn’t have internet access at home which made the communication with the students much harder. Moreover, the pandemic was such a surprise for all of us; teachers and parents were both not equipped to shift to virtual learning.

And like many other schools, my school was not prepared to shift to online teaching and was not able to put schedules and instructions for teachers and parents.

 I tried to handle these challenges with the resources that were available to me at that time. For example, I focused on one application that I knew all the parents had (WhatsApp) to ensure that all the students received the material. I also tried my best to send explanations and homework at times where both parents were home, so I scheduled the time to 7 pm every day.

In addition, I tried to give the parents clear instructions on how they can help and how to answer questions if needed taking into consideration that parents were playing the biggest role in the education of their kids during that period. I used both languages (Arabic and English) to ensure that parents were able to understand the instructions to support their kids.

  • How did you cater for the mixed abilities and learning styles in the classroom when schools shifted to online learning?

I used short and fun videos with cartoon characters; other lessons involved writing the rules on a paper and sheets to practice. Sometimes, I sent a video of me explaining a lesson and the students could later ask questions privately.

By trying different ways of delivering content, I was able to cater the mixed abilities of the students and the feedback from the school administration and the parents was great!

In addition, I allocated an hour a day to low achievers so that they could ask questions and I could provide support.

  • Which methods and tools did you use to reach all the students? How effective were they?

I used differentiated learning techniques to ensure that all types of learners were able to understand the lessons. There was different sets of explanation tools and exercises dedicated to high and low achievers, also I divided the students into groups of two (high achiever + low achiever), so they would solve an exercise together by meeting via a WhatsApp video call.

  • Which assessment methods did you use to ensure that the students were meeting the

objectives?

At the end of each lesson, we played a game that included all the objectives of the lesson as a fun assessment to help me guarantee that all objectives were attained.

  • What challenges did you face during the assessments, and how did you handle them?

In some cases, I was not sure if the parents were only helping the students or doing their homework for them. I tried to solve this problem by inviting the parents to a group video call during which I explained the importance of letting the students do their homework on their own, specially that the assessments were not graded. A number of students were not convinced by the effectiveness of virtual learning and didn’t take the assessment seriously. I tried to keep my lessons filled with fun and interactive games to grab the attention of my students. We agreed that the most engaged and persistent students will get a certificate sent to their parents. This increased their motivation to engage and learn more.

Good teachers explain – Great teachers inspire

Souad Abi Ishak is in the second year of her Teach For Lebanon Fellowship, teaching theater at Al Nahda Public School for girls in Tripoli.

Souad’s passion is arts. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Radio TV and Film from the Lebanese International University (LIU). She joined TFL after graduating with the aim to make a difference in the educational field and to prove that learning with art is important.

“Via theater, I can give my students an opportunity to express their emotions. My aim is to build their confidence and show them that they are able to achieve much more than they think. My students at Al-Nahda are exclusively girls and many of them grew up in a rather conservative social setting; theater classes make a big difference in their lives”.

Souad has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2013, as a member of the Emergency medical team. Working with openness, honesty, respect and generosity, her volunteering work is in line with TFL’s core values which are empathy, commitment to equality and mutual responsibility.

“I was able to be the first responder for many medical emergencies at Al-Nahda. We also held a First Aid Training with the encouragement of the school principal.Souad 2

In the end, regardless of the services, the aim of the two organizations are the same, serving others without expecting anything in return”.

In her lessons, Souad uses drama activities and mixes fun sessions with more serious periods. This is challenging because the classes have to be adapted to the different age groups – Souad teaches students from 5 to 13 years – and each class comprises around 25 to 30 children.

“As teachers, we play an important role in students’ lives and are often confronted with their personal issues. It’s not only about educational purposes but also about being there for them on a personal level. TFL gave us the opportunity to be inspiring to others”.

Asked what benefit schools and students pull out of TFL Fellows, Souad highlights TFL’s innovative methodology which visibly induces energy and triggers outside-the-box thinking of students.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires”, William A. Ward.

Souad

My Internship with Teach For Lebanon

510b46a8-dc06-4b4d-ac97-71c1b5467351Ten weeks. This was the timeline for my internship with Teach for Lebanon and as well the time I had to explore Lebanon, a country to which I had never been before. I remember being very excited about the upcoming adventure!

The TFL Team welcomed me very warmly and integrated me from the first day. I quickly learned the basic principle of Teach for Lebanon: training the most promising graduates and placing them into schools with less privileged children to generate benefits for both sides. The values taught – like active citizenship or gender equality – go beyond the regular schedule of the schools and help the students to believe in themselves and to make the best out of their multiple talents. The TFL mission shapes indeed the future generation of the country and I felt from the very beginning that both, the TFL Team and the Fellows are passionate about their mission.

During my internship I learned what it means to work in an NGO, I got to know the different work areas and could contribute my experience from Germany, where I am managing refugee settlements. Apart from that I certainly did witness an exceptional period of time in Lebanon, as the “thawra” broke out. It was the first word I could read in Arabic and it should influence my whole stay in Lebanon. Besides a lot of stunning and impressing experiences I made, it also meant, that schools were closed for weeks and work couldn’t continue as normal.

Even though it was an exceptional period in terms of politics, I had the chance to visit the country a little bit. I marveled at the archaeological sites in Byblos, went through the Souk in Tripoli and had a very good lemonade in Batroun while sitting on the Phoenician wall. On many weekends I went hiking and discovered the beautiful landscape in Lebanon – especially walking through Qadisha Valley and seeing nature in all its autumn colors was amazing!Franzsica PicBy my first walks through Beirut I noticed how peacefully Muslims and Christians live together, both of them being part of the rich history of this country for a long time. Church bells ring and the Muezzin sings and both is perfectly normal to everyone. I realized I hadn’t expected this and more painful, I hadn’t experienced this before.
Mosque and Church neighboring harmonious in the very center of the city. It could be so easy.

I am very grateful for the time I had in Lebanon for many reasons. The TFL Team has a big part in that with being very open; sharing their reflections on Lebanon with me, and – most important – introducing me to the Lebanese cuisine! Thank you very much & “merci kteer”, I head back to Germany with lots of beautiful memories and will keep you in my heart!1d27abbf-918f-4a6f-84d7-47de07b4c142

The internship was facilitated in cooperation with the German institute ifa (Institut fuer Auslandsbeziehungen).