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Refugee Children On Lebanon’s Border Get Ballet And Computer Science Lessons From Maltese Couple

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The world is in crisis, and the crisis stretches far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. From Syria to Venezuela and all the way back to Bangladesh, nearly one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds. 

And while the world battles the public health crisis, some refugee children affected by the Syrian disaster in Lebanon have got the opportunity to learn how to code, practice ballet and learn a little Maltese too.

Mark and Rachel Portelli, technology consultant and accountant respectively took out their frustrations on dialogue around displaced people, by offering their first-hand help in a country that hold’s one of the world’s largest refugee population: Lebanon.

In Sawiri, a town that borders Syria, the couple joined the Social Support Foundation, a charity that teams up with local schools to organise makeshift lessons in the evenings. Mark teaches them basic coding skills, while Rachel teaching accounting basics and also ballet lessons.

“Unsurprisingly the children were way more excited to dance ballet than to learn accounting,” Mark remarked. “They were likewise thrilled to have learned how to code a simple computer game from scratch.”

Some of Mark and Rachel's classes in Sawiri

Some of Mark and Rachel's classes in Sawiri

Lessons didn’t go without hurdles along the way. When the children couldn’t understand English, Mark would resort to delivering lessons in Maltese, while their teachers would help translate as much as they could.

And constant power cuts because of unreliable electricity grids means that sometimes they would have just three hours of electricity a day. Additionally, the internet was always disconnected, but thankfully lessons continued because the children would work on laptops.

Rachel and her ballet students

Rachel and her ballet students

With the pandemic raging across the world, Mark delivers his lessons virtually and has teamed up with NGO Thaki to collect second-hand laptops to bring back to Lebanon to continue giving refugee children a chance at education.

“If I can collect 50 laptops, we could open two computer labs in Lebanon,” he explained, describing how these lessons also provide a sense of normality to these children.

Students graduating from their lessons

Students graduating from their lessons

Following his time teaching on Syria’s borders, Portelli founded Digital Refugees, where he speaks about digital tools are lifelines for refugees – from planning safe escape journeys to accessing services like banking. It also shares opportunities to support refugees in the digital revolution transforming the world.

 

“It was a heartwarming experience seeing so many children eager to learn. For many children school, time was the only constant in their life. Many would leave school to face a heap of problems that only children fleeing war would understand,” he said. 

“Whether it’s going back to makeshift homes, separated or missing loved one, or poor health and mental problems, the school was one of the few places where everything seemed normal for the children.”

Are you an individual or business willing to support Mark and Rachel’s cause? You can reach out to them on http://fb.me/digitalforrefugees and they will organise a pick up in the coming days. 

Tag someone who can donate a laptop

READ NEXT: ‘We Didn’t Give Up’: Maltese TV Presenter Describes The Hurdles Of Getting Hitched In The Pandemic

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