A Fellow’s Influence, A Decade Later

After completing his Fellowship eight years ago, Karim did not quit teaching. He is currently balancing between that and acting, since he enjoys practicing both. He has completed his Master’s in Education, School Management and Policy Studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB) through TFL, and in parallel, is pursuing his dream of becoming an actor, director, and playwright. Karim is currently an IB drama teacher at the Wellspring Learning Community for students in grades 11 and 12.

Ten years later, Celine, one of the former students of Cohort 6 Alumnus Karim Chebli, reached out to him on Instagram after seeing his picture in one of the sessions during an Access class. On January 18, 2022, Celine and three other students hopped on a Zoom meeting with Karim to reconnect.

Karim taught them back in 2014 when they were still in grade four, at El Aamiliye School in the South of Lebanon, in Abbasiyah. Today, all four of them are Access 15 students.

When asked about what they remembered most about Karim as their teacher, the students explained that their English language has extensively improved thanks to him. According to Amira, “Karim was one of the most fun teachers we had and he used to do a lot of activities.” Although he was very strict, they all knew it was for a reason, which was to improve their skills. They expressed that he was their favorite teacher.

Now in Grade 11, Celine, Nour, Amira and Bader are planning what to major in and thinking about their futures. When they asked Karim for guidance and advice, his answer coming from the heart and years of experience was the following: “We cannot sustain any job, or any university degree if we’re not doing it with a lot of love.”

“As an educator, in Lebanon specifically, we are not compensated enough in relation to the amount of time, love and care we put into our field, except through seeing our energy, time and emotions turn others into fresh talents and successful young people as well” Karim said.

Karim was overjoyed to reconnect with his old students a decade later and expressed that seeing them more mature, grown-up, confident and perfectly expressing themselves in English definitely gives him a sort of contentment.

“I am so proud of them.”

An Alumna Supports the TFL Mission from Abroad

Anny Moufarrej is an alumna of TFL’s 5th cohort of fellows (2013–2015)

In 2013, Anny joined TFL as a Fellow. She served as a Fellow for two years (Cohort 5, 2013–15), then started an MS in financial economics with scholarship provided by TFL and the university of Balamand. Around the same time, she joined TFL’s executive team as head of alumni, logistics coordinator, and finance officer. In 2019, she completed her MS and resigned from her duties at TFL to move to California with her husband but remained a proud alumna and advocate for TFL and children’s education. When Anny saw an opportunity to give back to TFL once more, she joined TFL-US as development manager. Anny’s responsibilities include setting development goals and strategies, creating and managing fundraising campaigns, developing prospect portfolios, donor engagement, and more. 

Below is a short interview we conducted with Anny; we hope you enjoy her answers as much as we did.  

Why did you become a TFL Fellow? 

My own educational journey wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for someone who believed in me and helped my family pay for my education growing up. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for this opportunity and the quality education I received. When I came across TFL and learned about their mission, I instantly knew it was my calling (very cliché to say, but it’s true). I felt it could be a way to pay the support I received forward and work for a mission I strongly believe in.

Can you tell us a little about your experience of the Fellowship? 

I look back on my fellowship with a lot of gratitude. I taught Grades 1, 2, and 3 (mainly Arabic and English as a second language). I learned from my students as much as I taught them. I learned that teaching is a special partnership: it only really works when the teacher reaches beyond the outer image and looks into the hearts of their students, understanding and respecting what they see. The students’ role is to allow themselves to be seen for who they are and who they could be.

Why did you decide to join the TFL executive team after the Fellowship? 

I joined the executive team a few months after my fellowship ended, as I was completing my MS in financial economics through a scholarship provided by TFL and the university of Balamand. I was the head of alumni, logistics manager and finance officer at TFL. When the job was presented to me, I applied without thinking twice because I wanted to be part of the dream team – the team that makes all this difference. 

What are you passionate about? 

I love to be of use to others – to lend my ear, my voice, and take action to make a need heard. I’m passionate about traveling, meeting people all over the world, and observing raw humanity and nature in its infinite forms.

What do you enjoy doing on your own time? 

I like to take advantage of the weather in Southern California, so I spend as much time outdoors as possible (walking, hiking, going to the beach …). Some of my hobbies are photography and drawing portraits. 

If you had to describe yourself in three adjectives, what would you say?

I would say I’m a go-getter, dynamic and passionate person.

A reflection on The Role of Educators by a TFL Alumna

Ghadir Al Saghir is an alumna of TFL’s 9th cohort of fellows (2017–19). In the article below she gives us an update on what she’s been up to since graduating. 

Working with brilliant leaders in the field across the globe was an eye-opener to the endless possibilities we can achieve as educators! I realized that researching, updating practices, and rethinking policies are the way to realize justice for all learning communities. 

I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in education administration and policy studies at AUB. I am working with Ringlet Learning as an educational consultant to equip schools with our learning management system (LMS). We ensure the program takes into account student culture and language, and we train teachers to use our technology effectively. I am also Teach For Lebanon’s newest Access teacher. Being able to reach students and serve them in their contexts keeps me motivated.

To all TFL Fellows, I encourage you to look at the staff at the schools in which you’re placed as assets – to rely on their experience and collaborate with them. I also encourage you to consider your needs and those of your students, the conditions in which you’re working, and the teaching resources at your disposal. Then ask yourself the important questions: ‘What can I learn?’ and ‘How can I contribute?’ Why? Because these reflections are your starting point, and you will take them with you wherever you go.

After graduating from my TFL fellowship, I was inspired to gain a better understanding of multicultural classrooms and how we can make such spaces safe and just for every student. I was honored to receive the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to teach undergraduate students at the Pennsylvania State University in the US. I taught Arabic in a widely diverse classroom, helped students grasp the culture underlying the language, and focused on effective learning practices in my research projects as a student there. 

A TFL Alumna’s Ongoing Impact

Fadila Mawas is an alumna of TFL’s 11th cohort of fellows (2019–2021)

Before even graduating from the TFL Fellowship, Fadila was ready to continue serving her community beyond the program. Since 2018, she has been working with Leave an Impact (“Bader” in Arabic: بادر,), an initiative whose “main vision” Fadila outlines as “to have a community full of proactive citizens willing to give a hand to anyone in need. She has been head of HR at Leave an Impact since 2020. 

Below, Fadila answers a few questions about the initiative:

Where is Leave an Impact based?

Bader is based in Tripoli and mainly targets Tripolitan families. However, our activities can reach families from Akkar and other northern areas.

How has the initiative evolved over the past 4 years?

When Bader was founded, it consisted only of a few friends who had just graduated from university and wanted to do something to help their community. They started by gathering used clothes and restoring them to be reused by less fortunate people. Over time, Bader’s family grew to around 50 volunteers who came from different fields and backgrounds and worked together tirelessly. This allowed Bader to diversify its activities, organize fundraising events, and help more people. Bader offers people what they need most whether it’s food, home appliances, home renovation, clothes, etc.

Do you provide other kinds of support to the communities you serve?

As our mission is to help those in need not only financially but also psychologically,  our volunteers organize regular visits to orphanages and elderly homes, especially on holidays. We try to draw a smile on the faces of those we visit, to remind them that they are loved, that they are not alone, and that life still has much to offer. In the last few years we have visited دار الرعاية الاجتماعية ,and دار الأمل. However, due to the Covid19 pandemic and the safety measures that need to be taken, our visits have been postponed until further notice. 

Are you the founder of this initiative?

Bader was founded in 2017 by Rabih Al Dannawi and a few of his friends. I joined a year later, when the initiative was still in its early days and short on volunteers. Since then, I have participated in many activities and have filled leading roles in the organization.

How do you fundraise?

Although we accept and encourage monetary donations, we took a decision not to make these our only source of income, because they are seasonal, unreliable, and can dry out sometimes, especially in the hard times we live in. Thus, we accept other types of donations, such as used books (that we resell later), clothes, home appliances, etc. We also take advantage of holidays and organize events both to bring some joy to the people of our beloved city and make us some money that we later use to help those in need. An example of such an event is selling flaming balloons the night before Eid Al-Adha and Eid Al-Fitr. 

Do you get support from any other organization? Do you collaborate with a specific charity or entity?

Bader is backed only by the fundraising events it organizes and by the generous donations of people. However, collaborations with other organizations or entities are always welcome as long as these entities have the same goal as Bader, which is to help those in need – with no other agenda. 

When is your next activity happening?

Bader’s next activity will be held at the beginning of the school year. We will try to provide the students with stationary and academic books they need at cheaper prices. 

Meanwhile, Bader will continue its regular family visits and collect data on the less fortunate familie in our communities in order to provide help based on the families’ needs. 

Do you have anything to say to current or prospective fellows? Or to a TFL audience in general?

TFL has reinforced the core values that I need as a citizen who strives to give back to her society, to help the less fortunate and leave a positive impact on their lives. It has taught me to be empathetic, to put myself in others’ positions, and to always seek to go the extra mile. Thank you TFL for granting me the opportunity to discover my true potential and my inner leader.

To prospective fellows I would say: “Seize such a chance and work for it because it truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity” 

How can people help you or who can they reach out to if they want to help Bader?

All help to our initiative is welcome and thoroughly appreciated. We accept donations in all forms whether it’s money, books, clothes, or anything that can be used to help someone in need. People can contact us on our Facebook page, through our Instagram page, or by phone at +96170570917.

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.