American University of Beirut

AUB’s GHATA project receives international human rights award

​​​​​​​Sally Abou Melhem <>​, Office of Communications

Rabih Shibli, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) at AUB, received the annual Professor Fritz Redlich Human Rights Award for 2018 at the Global Mental Health Trauma and Recovery Program 2018-19, that was held this November in Orvieto, Italy. The award, given by the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, recognizes CCECS’s GHATA project that aims to bridge education to informal tented settlements. Shibli was accompanied to the award ceremony by members of his team: Hala Fleihan, Karen Chahine, and Melissa Matar. 

“The global refugee crisis is receiving worldwide attention,” said Professor Richard F. Mollica, director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. “The GHATA project is a major innovation that has the capacity to assist highly traumatized refugee children worldwide.”

Shibli gave the award lecture and address, where he spoke about his experience, as well as the work implemented by CCECS, in conceptualizing and implementing different community projects over the years, in which he bridged developmental planning with experiential learning. Shibli’s work targeted three different types of communities: internally displaced communities such as those of south Lebanon in 2006, communities in formal camps such as the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and refugees in informal camps and tented settlements as well as collective shelters such as for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 

“This award recognizes ten years of rigorous work and commitment by CCECS in responding to some of the most pressing challenges facing vulnerable communities in Lebanon,” said Shibli. “Human rights remain the core value underlying this journey, and it is a great honor to receive the acknowledgment in the name of Dr. Fritz Redlich, an exceptional scholar and an inspirational practitioner.”

The GHATA Project
The GHATA (Arabic for “cover”) project was initially developed to address the urgent need for safe, temporary shelter for Syrian refugees living in informal tented settlements or other living conditions throughout Lebanon. GHATA structures are designed as cost-effective units; built from locally available materials; simple to assemble, disassemble, and transport; and capable of withstanding difficult weather conditions. In 2014, the project was granted a decree for using the GHATA for educational purposes. CCECS then worked on implementing the project ‘’GHATA: Bringing Education to Informal Tented Settlements.’’ The initiative aims to provide schooling for refugee children by constructing portable classrooms within their tented settlements and training qualified teams from the targeted communities to lead the educational process. Over 160​ GHATA units have been installed so far in numerous informal tented settlements to serve as community schools. Key partners of the GHATA project are the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Kayany Foundation, Reach Out To ​Asia, and Kings College London. 

CCECS worked with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma on a research project titled “GHATA: a Restorative Built Environment Impacting Refugees Mental Health in Lebanon” in Bekaa. The study aimed to assess the frequency and impact of mental health problems and trauma outcomes on children ages 12-14 attending GHATA schools versus tented schools.  A group of 12 AUB student volunteers were supervised and trained to conduct interviews and collect data on the prevalence of psychological disorders among a subset of Syrian schoolchildren in Lebanon. The project began in 2016 and the first phase was concluded in October 2018.

The Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service
“In the first decade of operations, CCECS established a solid foundation to promulgate AUB’s mission of impactful engagement across campus, and is now keen to extend outreach to the wider marginalized landscapes of the region,” said Shibli.

The center’s mission is to connect the university, external partners, and underserved communities in order to facilitate change in marginalized landscapes while providing opportunities for transformative education. 

In addition to the recent Professor Fritz Redlich Human Rights Award, CCECS was awarded the “most civically engaged university campus in the MENA region” by Ma'an Alliance in 2015, the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship from Tufts University in 2016, and the South-by-Southwest Learn by Design Honorary Award in 2018.

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