Switzerland finished the renovation of 19 public schools damaged by the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port.
Monika Korgoz, the Swiss ambassador to Lebanon, handed the keys of the schools to Tarek Majzoub, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of Education and Higher Education in a ceremony on Wednesday, March 17.
The Beirut blast damaged 163 schools and affected no less than 85,000 Lebanese and non-Lebanese students, leaving 1 in 4 children in the city at risk of missing out on their education according to the International Rescue Committee. The ongoing economic crisis has put the education of hundreds of thousands vulnerable Lebanese children at risk.
Switzerland “directly rehabilitated 19 public schools, which will allow more than 7,000 children to return to school in a safe and healthy environment,” said Korgoz at the ceremony.
While most schools were ready by the end of 2020, others were more severely damaged –including the Laure Moughayzil Secondary School in Achrafieh where the hand-over ceremony took place.
Korgoz said the Swiss effort involved students in the rebuilding effort of their schools through artistic and environmental activities, with the Laure Moughayzil students drawing “a mural on the walls leading to the theater, in cooperation with a Lebanese artist.”
Swiss rehabilitation efforts included the changing of windows and doors, structural works to walls and ceilings, painting facades, changes to sanitary facilities, electrical work, roof waterproofing and more.
Majzoub thanked the country for its support, with Switzerland allocating $6 million for Lebanon in total after the blast. The country also committed to rebuilding parts of Beirut’s Saint Georges Hospital and the Paediatric Department of Karantina Governmental Hospital, the latter being entirely destroyed by the blast but ready for reopening by the end of the month.
“Children are not only at the center of our attention, they are themselves actors of their own future. Leaving no one behind starts with education,” said the ambassador. “Short-term responses are simply not enough, these long-term plans offer hope and opportunities for the future.”
Wednesday’s ceremony was held in the presence of UNESCO Regional Director Costanza Farina, representatives of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, and representatives from UNICEF.
In her speech, Farina noted that the reconstruction efforts go beyond repairing the physical damage to schools.
“Reconstructing schools is not only building stones and fixing windows and doors, but is above all restoring stability to the souls of children and affirming the continuity of education,” said the UNESCO regional director. “It gives them hope for the coming days, and this is dedicated in our approaches to doing better.”