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Recovery Starts With a Bell

Lebanon, September 2, 2006

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Longtime principal Salah Tleis is working to make Brital Public School No. 2 "a more welcome place" before kids return. Photo: Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps

Brital, Lebanon — Walking through the empty halls and classrooms of Brital Public School No. 2, principal Salah Tleis is obviously proud.

"I helped open this school in 1992," says Tleis, whose close-cropped hair and crisp pace hint at his first career, as an officer in the Lebanese army. "Now we have more than 400 students, from ages five through 17."

But like many of the schools in this war-affected area of eastern Lebanon, Public School No. 2 is in need of repair, and fast: the Lebanese Ministry of Education says schools will open by the second week of October.

Today, thanks to Mercy Corps supporters, construction engineers are at Public School No. 2 assessing the needs and making plans for repairs.

"This school escaped any direct bomb damage," says David Holdridge, who is managing Mercy Corps' response in Lebanon. "So we'll be replacing lots of broken glass, fixing damaged door frames and blackboards, and repainting the entire building."

In the aftermath of armed conflict, Holdridge says, it is critical to get children back to school as soon as possible, pointing out that a familiar routine helps them deal with the trauma they have just experienced.

"In every post-conflict environment I have seen - West Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East - the key to getting kids back on track has been getting them back to school as quickly and safely as possible," Holdridge says.

Principal Tleis agrees.

"The children here live a rough life," he says in heavily accented English. "They were hearing the bombs and fighting for a month and they were very scared. The new glass, the doors, the fresh colors - they make this a safe and more welcome place when they return."

Public School No. 2 is one of seven schools that Mercy Corps is repairing in the area.

Throughout the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, schools were used to temporarily house thousands of people fleeing the fighting, so the repair and refurbishment challenges are significant.

The Lebanese minister of education estimates that just in southern Lebanon, where the bulk of the fighting took place, 50 schools were completely destroyed and 300 had been seriously damaged.

With those needs in mind, Mercy Corps is working hard to get more than 40 schools up and running in the hard-hit southern Lebanon districts of Nabatiye and Marjayoun.

In addition to school repair, Mercy Corps is working with local partners to give kids the tools they need to succeed when they get back to class: more than 25,000 age-appropriate "back-to-school" kits for students in war-affected areas.

Primary school students will receive a bag of school supplies, including writing tablets and colored construction paper, pencils and pens, crayons, erasers, and other basics. Secondary school kids will get sturdy expanding folders that include a geometry set, a scientific calculator, and an Arabic-English dictionary - all supplies that are critical to the Lebanese secondary curriculum.

Help Mercy Corps meet the needs of war-affected Lebanese children, please donate to our Lebanon Crisis Fund.