In December 2013, Lebanon was hit by the record-setting blizzard Alexa, a storm of unprecedented strength, in which five refugee infants and children froze to death in makeshift tents. Concurrently that year, UNHCR offices in Beirut registered the highest number of refugees per capita world-wide, where nearly 1 million Syrians fled across the border to escape war and persecution. The appalling conditions and lack of a coordinated national crisis response, combined with weakened refugees’ resilience, necessitated that we adopt a proactive and strategic approach to invest in building capacities of refugees enduring a protracted stay with an aim that they will actively contribute to the Relief, Reconstruction, and Recovery of Syria upon their safe return.
CCECS designed and piloted project Ghata (Arabic word for cover) to serve as a temporary shelter that is able to ensure humane and decent living conditions for refugees during acute weather changes. The design is derived from refugees’ shelter construction practices that are based on simplicity, portability, adaptability, scalability, climatic responsiveness, and economic efficiency. The first unit was assembled as a shelter by a refugee family, and the second was placed by university students on AUB campus. Following structural analysis, safety testing and modifications, the project was rolled out off campus into the Informal Tented Settlements (ITSs) to be utilized as classrooms. At the time around 60% of school aged refugees were out of school due to barriers that include security threats, mobility, prejudice, financial destitution, language of instructions, disrupted learning, curriculum discrepancies, and inadequate built environment. Assembling Ghata units inside the ITSs and in close proximity to largest concentration of refugees’ presence was key to overcoming these barriers.
In addition to primary and secondary education, CCECS developed high impact multi-year interventions for skills-building and livelihoods, as well as psychosocial support and mental health. Currently, more than 8,000 refugees and host communities are being served by CCECS programs annually.