Chichester churches link to help Syrian refugees

Outside one of the tent schools in Syrian refugee camps
Outside one of the tent schools in Syrian refugee camps

CHURCHES across Chichester are working together to provide tent schools for Syrian refugees.

Members have been raising money for Chichester-based charity Children on the Edge to build and run tent schools in a refugee camp.

Putting up a sign

Putting up a sign

Esther Smitheram, communications officer for Children on the Edge, said: “It’s a great example of local people uniting to make a difference.”

A group of the city’s churches wanted to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis together and agreed to help build a school in Lebanon.

Dan Slatter, leader of Revelation Church, based in St Pancras, described how members had felt while reading news feeds over the last 18 months.

He said it had become increasingly hard not to be moved by the stream of shocking images, showing refugees from Syria pouring into the surrounding countries and, more recently, arriving onto Europe’s doorstep.

“Like many people, we at Revelation Church were moved as a community and felt the stirring to respond, but then very quickly hit the limit of our expertise as a local church leader team.

“I had heard that Children on the Edge was working with partners in Lebanon, so a coffee was booked to get advice.”

Children on the Edge is small organisation, also based in St Pancras, but working with vulnerable children across the world.

Over the last two years, the charity has been working with local partners in Lebanon to establish tent schools for Syrian refugee children in many of the small camps that have sprung up in Bekaa Valley.

Dan said: “When we heard about the combination of Children on the Edge development expertise, working alongside a local Lebanese organisation, we knew we had found the right channel for our response.

“We just wanted to know how we could help, but what emerged from this question is something that honestly took us all by surprise.

“We dared to dream what could happen if a whole group of different churches in Chichester responded together, to build and run a school in one of the most desperate places of need on the planet.

“So, the churches of the city took up the challenge together, pooled their resources and partnered with Children on the Edge.

“To date, we have fully paid for one school build and yearly running costs and are now well on target towards a second school. Before we really knew what was going on we had six churches on board, with enough money committed to fund almost two new school builds and the running costs for a year.”

Nuna, the church leader in Beirut, said: “I am so grateful to each one of you who are sowing into this work. It means we can be in the camps all the time with a constant presence with people on the ground. Without this we can only do small visits and are less effective.”

Children on the Edge has connected with a church and associated non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Lebanon and the schools it supports are educating more than 300 children. The charity will also ensure the supply of winter provisions through the colder months.

Rachel Bentley, executive director at Children on the Edge, said: “It is an incredible privilege to be able to provide the opportunity to link the churches of Chichester to our partners in Lebanon to meet the needs of Syrian refugee children and their communities.

“We are very thankful for the support of Revelation and the Chichester churches for making this possible.”

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