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In 2006, Sister Micheline asked a charitable organization in Monaco that specializes in education and aid for children in need to help with rent for three years. This paved the way to an important partnership. In 2008, she received $20,000 from the group to buy three-quarters of an acre. A year later, she received more than $200,000 to build a community center. Other charities provided assistance to paint, furnish and equip the center. Before long, a desire to serve the children of the region had grown into a full-fledged institution.

“Every year I felt the hand of God in the program. When I asked for something, I got it,” says Sister Micheline.

These efforts not only made a difference in the community, but also laid important groundwork. In 2012, refugees from Syria began to arrive in the Bekaa Valley en masse, and Sister Micheline and her fellow sisters rushed to lend assistance. Drawing upon every resource at their disposal, they provided food and water, winter clothing and fuel.

More than just material assistance, however, the sisters offered emotional support — visiting with refugee families, spending time with mothers and children, listening with genuine interest and above all sharing something often taken for granted: human presence and compassion. Last but not least, they began using their community center to host classes for Syrian refugee children, some of whom had not attended school since the war began.

Two vans now make five trips a day, picking up and dropping off a total of 240 students ranging from kindergarten to the sixth grade. Sisters and lay teachers from among the Syrian refugees lead classes in Arabic, English, French, geography, history, math, science and social studies, following the Syrian curriculum.

The school has the hallmarks of a Catholic parochial school: order and cleanliness reign. Students sit erect in their seats, eager to participate, and an environment of mutual respect pervades the school.

“They used to come all muddy and dirty,” says Good Shepherd Sister Rita Hadchity, the youngest member of their community at 36 years old. The sisters subsequently began a health and cleanliness campaign to which the students took very well.

“It is a project of God,” says Sister Micheline. “God loves his children and he would not want them to suffer.”

Sister Rita says the United Nations supplies food to their program, hoping it will encourage parents to send children to class instead of to work.

“And that is working,” Sister Rita says.

Moreover, subsequent partnership with CNEWA has even enabled them to expand their program.

Still, from grades four through six, the classes grow noticeably smaller. Some boys at this age must become breadwinners for their families, working in the fields to harvest potatoes, onions and wheat on a full-time basis for a pittance. Girls also take on work, cleaning houses and babysitting.

In Lebanon, some 80 percent of Syrian children are not enrolled in school. According to UNHCR, the number of Syrian school-age children will soon exceed that of Lebanese students.

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