From Syria to Chile and be­yond, the Teach for All move­ment marks 10 years of help­ing chil­dren most in need in 46 coun­tries, writes James Lang­ton

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It was dur­ing 2011 that the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing civil war in Syria sent a tidal wave of refugees over the bor­der into Lebanon.

The sheer num­bers threat­ened to over­whelm Lebanon’s frag­ile econ­omy and frac­tured so­ci­ety; no more so than in the coun­try’s public ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, which found its in­take tripling.

At the time, Sa­lyne El Sa­ma­rany was com­plet­ing two years as a kin­der­garten teacher at a ru­ral school in north­ern Lebanon. A re­cent univer­sity grad­u­ate, she had of­fered her skills to Teach for Lebanon, then a new or­gan­i­sa­tion aim­ing to get more ed­u­ca­tors into un­der-re­sourced schools.

“Those 25 stu­dents that I worked with in that kin­der­garten have changed my life to­tally,” she says.

To­day, Ms El Sa­ma­rany is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Teach For Lebanon, the same or­gan­i­sa­tion that re­cruited her as a raw teacher nine years ago, and is now deal­ing first hand with the coun­try’s strug­gle to ed­u­cate what is now about 350,000 Syr­ian refugee chil­dren still there.

Teach For Lebanon is part of a world­wide part­ner­ship of 46 mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions, rang­ing from Afghanistan and Aus­tralia to Swe­den and Viet­nam. The lat­est mem­ber is Uganda.

The Teach for All move­ment this month cel­e­brates its 10th anniversary. First de­vel­oped in the United States and then the UK, each or­gan­i­sa­tion op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently.

Every mem­ber is lo­cally led and funded, of­ten through so­cial en­trepreneurs, re­cruit­ing what it iden­ti­fies as lead­ers to first spend two years teach­ing in schools and ar­eas that need them most. Stan­dards are high, and typ­i­cally only one in four ap­pli­cants is ac­cepted.

The hope is, af­ter­wards, that they will con­tinue their pas­sion for ed­u­ca­tion, whether still in the class­room or more broadly in re­lated ar­eas such as public pol­icy, rais­ing stan­dards and best prac­tices ev­ery­where – and sup­ported by large and di­verse world­wide sup­port group of like-minded peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Ms El Sa­ma­rany was one of those bright prospects, or a fel­low, as those teach­ing are known. After com­plet­ing their two years of ser­vice, they be­come alumni, ready to share and de­velop ideas with any of the 46 part­ners of Teach for All.

After be­com­ing an alumni, Ms Sa­ma­rany was cho­sen as the Le­banese am­bas­sador for youth at the Arab Thought Foun­da­tion and, in 2014, was one of nine young peo­ple cho­sen for the 2014 UN Spe­cial Envoy for Global Ed­u­ca­tion’s Youth Courage Award.

The awards were in part recog­ni­tion for the chal­lenges she faced as a new teacher, in a school where se­cu­rity was some­times un­cer­tain and re­sources so stretched that even chalk was in short sup­ply. Only one of the teach­ers had a univer­sity de­gree.

As chief ex­ec­u­tive of Teach for Lebanon, those chal­lenges have only mul­ti­plied. Be­fore the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis, only one in four Le­banese chil­dren, or about 250,000 stu­dents, used the public schools. To­day, the in­flux of refugee chil­dren has swollen those num­bers by more than a third. Even so, an­other 200,000 Syr­ian young­sters liv­ing in Lebanon are still out­side the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

To date, Teach for Lebanon has placed more than 100 teach­ers in 19 re­source-stretched schools, from North­ern and South Lebanon to the Bekaa. The or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates it has helped about 8,400 high-risk pupils.

One of the strengths of be­ing part of in­ter­na­tional net­work, Ms El Sa­ma­rany says, is the depth of sup­port and ex­pe­ri­ence teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tion work­ers can draw on, es­pe­cially when what con­fronts them on a daily ba­sis can seem so daunt­ing.

“We share best prac­tices, learn from each other and re­as­sure each other that the chal­lenges we face are more or less sim­i­lar,” she says.

“To see class­rooms in Nepal or In­dia where fel­lows are do­ing amazing work gives me hope that this is rel­e­vant in our con­text.”

The Syr­ian refugee cri­sis has af­fected an­other young teacher, but this time more than 3,300 kilo­me­tres away. Si­mon Horowitz, now 31, had long de­cided that the ca­reer prospects for his de­gree in busi­ness stud­ies did not ap­peal.

As he puts it: “I was never go­ing to feel com­fort­able in an of­fice job sit­ting be­hind a desk with a com­puter. I thrive from help­ing peo­ple and get them to start to be­lieve in them­selves.”

Bri­tish born, he moved to Aus­tria in 2010 and be­came flu­ent in Ger­man.

“It’s al­ways been very im­por­tant in my life where I feel I am work­ing with my heart, where I feel do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful and in my own lit­tle way I am mak­ing the world a bet­ter place,” he says.

Three years later, he dis­cov­ered Teach for Aus­tria. “I Just re­mem­ber go­ing into the of­fice for the first time and feel­ing the at­mos­phere there and just sens­ing the pos­i­tiv­ity among the fel­lows and among the staff”, he re­calls. “I re­alised I felt at home there and I wanted to be part of it.”

Six weeks of train­ing fol­lowed be­fore Mr Horowitz found him­self in the only public school in a district of Salzburg with a high in­take of im­mi­grant chil­dren. “It was a huge mix,” he says. “There was only one Aus­trian child in the whole school.”

Many of the stu­dents were from Turkey and East­ern Europe, but as the refugee cri­sis en­veloped Europe two years ago, more ar­rived from Syria and Afghanistan. “At my school we have two full classes of chil­dren with this back­ground,” he says.

By then, he had the ad­van­tage of two years’ ex­pe­ri­ence as a mid­dle school teacher. His con­fi­dence in the class­room was a con­trast to his early days when:

“I felt like I was jump­ing and I needed some­one to catch me. I didn’t really feel like a teacher at that point. I was mo­ti­vated, and I was ready. I had all of these ideas, and I was kind of stopped in my tracks at the be­gin­ning.

“I re­alised that first of all I have to win the trust of these kids, you have to build up a re­la­tion­ship. You have to take build up re­la­tion­ships with these chil­dren, many of whom have had dif­fi­cult lives.”

Mr Horowitz has con­tin­ued to work in the class­room after the end of his two-year ini­tial com­mit­ment. He is now part of a world­wide net­work of more than 55,000 alumni, of whom nearly seven in 10 have stayed work­ing ei­ther in ed­u­ca­tion or with dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties.

In the Mid­dle East, the Teach for All net­work op­er­ates just in Lebanon and Qatar although it hopes to ex­pand this to five coun­tries by 2020.

Three years ago, plans for a Teach For UAE were an­nounced, although the project has yet to start.

There is much work to be done. One UN re­port es­ti­mates that in the Mid­dle East and North Africa re­gion, more than 12 mil­lion chil­dren and teenagers do not go to school, in­clud­ing up to half of all girls.

Such prob­lems are not re­stricted to the Mena re­gion. In 2011, Cris­tian Cortes re­alised soon after grad­u­at­ing with de­gree in molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy that life in a lab coat was not for him.

He ap­proached a new or­gan­i­sa­tion, Enseña Chile, or Teach for Chile, and after train­ing, be­gan his two years of teach­ing in 2012 at a high school. As oth­ers else­where had found, many of his pupils would come from dif­fi­cult back­grounds, of­ten as mi­grants, and where vi­o­lence and ex­tor­tion were con­stant prob­lems.

After his two years were up, Mr Cortes de­cided he wanted to widen his ex­pe­ri­ence. The Teach for All net­work, and the op­por­tu­ni­ties and sup­port it of­fers, has seen him work in Texas, California, Columbia and Is­rael. He plans next to visit Lebanon and this week he at­tended the Qudwa teach­ers fo­rum in Abu Dhabi.

His in­ter­ests in­clude help­ing teach­ers ev­ery­where to bet­ter meet the as­pi­ra­tions of their stu­dents. “I re­alised in­equity was not just in the class­room, but across the whole ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” he says. “That there are greater prob­lems.”

Like ev­ery­one in­volved in the Teach for All move­ment, the story al­ways be­gins with a slightly ner­vous young man or woman stand­ing at the front of a class­room of ex­pec­tant young faces for the first time.

“I worked for two years,” says Mr Cortes. “And it has com­pletely changed the way I see the world.”

I re­alised in­equity was not just in the class­room, but across the whole ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem CRIS­TIAN CORTES Teach for Chile

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