Sadly, it’s already my fifth week at Lebanese Alternative Learning, which means I
have only two weeks left before I leave Beirut behind me for my 75 KM hike in Jordan. If I could, I would stay at least another month because the ‘ZERO WASTE’ project I’m working on together with four other Lebanese girls is finally getting off the ground. My NGO isn’t the only reason why I would like to stay longer; Lebanon makes me feel more home than ever before and the country fascinates me everyday. The sun is always shining (I haven’t seen rain once), it’s not a problem when I arrive a bit later because I forgot my keys again since everything starts at least 30 minutes later here, I can cycle up a mountain whenever I want, and the people here are extremely friendly and helpful. Of course Lebanon isn’t perfect, which you probably realized after reading our previous posts, but in the end: what is perfect?
My NGO’s main purpose isn’t focused on reducing (plastic) waste. LAL actually fulfills a completely different goal: providing education for vulnerable groups. Lebanese Alternative Learning was founded by Nayla Fahed and Nagi Ghorra; CEO & Vice President of the only non-profit organization in Lebanon that uses digital learning platforms to reach a wide variety vulnerable communities.
“Nayla, how did you come up with the idea of combining technology and education for vulnerable communities?”
“As a French literature teacher at Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, I was also very curious about technology. I became friends with Nagi, who was responsible for the e-learning system of the university. We had lunch together often, and initiated small projects containing learning languages and helping out interns. Besides teaching, I created exercises for children that were recovering from cancer. During this period of volunteering, I realized I wanted to create study books for them. One day Nagi said to me: ‘why not create interactive digital activities?!’ Soon we got the chance to meet the NGO Myschoolpulse. Since their objective was to bring school to hospitals in Lebanon for children that were undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness, they gave us our first funding and we started working with them.’
“In the beginning you worked together with Myschoolpulse, when did you decide to start your own NGO?”
“Officially in 2014, but we started two years before thinking about it. Because we desired not only to work with sick children, the NGO believed we had to start our own organization. Myschoolpulse wasn’t big enough to cover everything; the small number of children they had under treatment did not justify digital which is the solution for large numbers of students. They decided to give us the part we already created and some funding in order to improve the content and the overall plan. From that moment, we started to work together with other international non-profit organizations such as World Vision (funded by Global Affairs Canada). They funded Tabshoura Kindergarten, our first official e-learning project in three languages; Arabic, French and English dedicated to nursery classes, free of charge. The program is based on the new Lebanese curriculum. After that, more and more people came and we started to make any kind of educational programs.”
“You say ‘any kind’ of educational programs, can you give an example?”
“Digital is LAL’s chore work, but sometimes we give workshops or seminars as well. We have had a very interesting and well-received project about comic strips, in which multiple schools with children from different nationalities were participating. Each school began a narrative, and the next school had to continue. In this way, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi children were working together on a story. In the end they all met and discussed about how they came up with their ideas. Recently we had a girl from Germany who gave lessons about conflict resolution in vulnerable schools, but we also used her knowledge to create an e-learning module. In this module children learn how to react in certain situations without using violence, and try to improve to use dialogue instead of physical and mental punishment. ”
“You said LAL creates content for vulnerable groups, are there any specific groups that get the most support?’’
“Most of the schools we approach are public schools, refugee camps and non-formal learning centers in Lebanon. At LAL we mainly do the content and partner with other NGO’s that are able to implement it into schools. Our goal is to provide digital resources, motivate children, keep them in school and avoid children from dropping out. We hope our e-learning programs help students to acquire the level of education needed to enter formal education.’’
“Are there any big challenges you are facing?”
Creating content is time consuming, which makes it difficult sometimes. Luckily we have partnerships with NGO’s that provide computers, who also implement computer labs into these schools. In the beginning the internet connection was the main challenge, but now it is possible to install the Tabshoura software out of a box. The Moodlebox is small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s a universal device, internet and electricity independent, providing a local wireless network to which up to 30 smartphones, tablets and computers can connect simultaneously. The scope of the Wi-Fi largely covers a classroom. Because of the help from other NGO’s, young, intelligent volunteers from all over the world that come up with inspiring idea’s, we maintain working with little money and keep improving our content.”
“Lastly, which achievements are you very proud off?”
“If we look back at our journey, we are very proud of how much we grew in such a short period of time. With a lot of patience and discussions with the Lebanese government, we achieved a contract with the CERD – the center that creates education books in Lebanon and works for the Ministry of Education. This contract states that our e-learning programs are qualified as adaptable in the Lebanese education system. In 2017, we got the ‘Equals in Tech’ award from United Nations for our project ‘Girls can Count.’ This project was funded by Malala and focused on improving women and girls’ digital technology access, connectivity and security. The program was mainly used in schools with girls only. The content we produce is equal for boys and girls, but some of the Syrian refugee camps are very conventional so some parents didn’t allow their girls to go to schools in which they could meet boys.’’
Do you want to know more about LAL? Feel free to visit the website: http://lal.ngo