UNESCO launched today a partnership with the Lebanese University (LU), the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Saint Joseph University in Beirut (USJ), during a ceremony held at the organization’s office in Beirut, with the aim of rehabilitating university buildings damaged by the port explosions on August 4, 2020, and under the auspices of the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE). This project is implemented in partnership with the Education Above All Foundation – EAA-EAC, with the support of the Qatar Fund for Development, and comes within the framework of UNESCO’s flagship “Li Beirut” initiative, through which the organization is rehabilitating more than 100 damaged educational sites at schools and universities.
The ceremony was attended by His Excellency the Lebanese Minister of Education and Higher Education, Tarek Majzoub, His Excellency the Ambassador of Qatar in Beirut, Mohammed Hassan Jaber Al-Jaber, the President of the Lebanese University, Dr. Fouad Hussein Ayoub, AUB’s president Dr. Fadlo Khoury, and USJ’s president Father Salim Daccache, to celebrate this project which encompasses the restoration of 22 faculties and the central administration building at the Lebanese University, 8 buildings at AUB, most of which are heritage buildings, and 2 buildings at USJ. In addition to that, equipment and furniture is being provided in 7 buildings to replace what was damaged by the blasts, while the implementation counts on national experts and local contractors.
The partnership between EAA and UNESCO supports the initial phase of building back the education system affected by the blasts and providing a safe and accessible learning environment for learners, to ensure their right and access to education. The project is in line with UNESCO’s programme focusing on education for vulnerable populations, and directly linked with UNESCO’s Arab Regional Strategy for Education in Crisis Situations (2018- 2021). As the global lead on the Sustainable Development Goal 4, as well as the School Rehabilitation Coordinator in Lebanon, UNESCO considers education as the most critical life-saving and life enhancing tool, crucial for the development of prosperous and peaceful societies.
Speaking during the ceremony, Minister Majzoub said that “there are many spaces of hope in times of despair with the presence of countries and international parties that are friends, and that view education as a basis for general advancement. “In this context comes the “Li Beirut” initiative. It received support from the State of Qatar, which took in charge the rehabilitation of schools, TVETs and the buildings of the Lebanese University, AUB, and USJ. The UNESCO Regional Office coordinated this process and today, we launch the partnership with UNESCO for the process of rehabilitating these university buildings with the support of the Emir of the State of Qatar, the Education Above All Foundation and the Ambassador of Qatar in Lebanon. Together with the educational and university family, we strive to sustain education in Lebanon, because education is a right and education is above all. From here comes our appreciation and gratitude for the beautiful countries, organizations, and institutions that respond to our growing needs in light of the cumulated crises that we cannot bear alone. One goal that unites us is to raise generations through their upbringing and education, whether education is done in presence, by distance or mixed. Therefore, our endeavors focus on protecting the educational sector and protecting those responsible for it and its workers as a national priority. We have received support in our endeavors and we have succeeded in placing education at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, so that our children return to schools and universities”.
For his part, the Ambassador of the State of Qatar in Beirut, Mohammed Hassan Jaber Al-Jaber, indicated that “the Education Above All Foundation and UNESCO have united their efforts with the financial support of the Qatar Fund for Development, which amounts to about USD 10 million, in order to rehabilitate 55 schools, 20 TVETS and 3 universities. All with the aim of ensuring the continuity of the educational mission, and ensuring the right of children and youth to return to the classrooms and receive their education in a safe and accessible environment”. Al-Jaber confirmed that nearly 30,000 people have benefited from the foundation’s projects in Lebanon since 2013.
Costanza Farina, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Education in the Arab States in Beirut, thanked the Government of Qatar for its generous support, and praised the role of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in trusting UNESCO with the coordination of the rehabilitation and recovery of the sector. Farina mentioned that the “Li Beirut” initiative aims to place education and culture at the heart of reconstruction efforts and to mobilize international and local resources and partnerships, with the aim of supporting two very vibrant sectors in the country, namely education and culture. She noted that Lebanon still faces enormous challenges, as recently reported by the World Bank. She added: “In times of severe crisis, we all count on the role of higher education and the support for local communities. Rebuilding Beirut begins with reviving the education sector and its cultural fabric, and universities have a critically important role to play to ensure that the right to quality education and learning opportunities for all is not compromised. And that no one is left behind. The graduates of AUB, USJ and the LU are leaders in politics, healthcare, business, government and education everywhere in the world. As Lebanon continues to battle multiple crises, education must be protected to avert a generational catastrophe. When education is interrupted, it affects everyone – not just students and teachers, but the future of nations”.
In his speech, the President of the Lebanese University, Dr. Fouad Hussein Ayoub, highlighted the importance of this cooperation between the Lebanese University and UNESCO in general, especially in the current crises, in regards to health, economy or security, and following the Beirut blasts, which paralyzed the higher education sector and the Lebanese University on the humanitarian and infrastructure levels. President Ayoub emphasized that the UNESCO office in Beirut was the first to help the Lebanese University confront these obstacles and rehabilitate the destroyed buildings and infrastructure through the “Li Beirut” initiative. He also thanked UNESCO Beirut specialists for this constructive initiative and the great support given, which has enabled 87,000 men and women to continue their studies.
The President of the American University of Beirut, Dr. Fadlo Khoury, said that Lebanon has often been said to be rising, stronger and better, after each disaster over the years, like the Phoenix of the Greek mythology. “The great work you are doing to rescue Lebanon’s heritage not only memorializes its history, he added, but it also builds much needed hope within this country, reminding us that resilience and continuity are possible after all. Post-disaster urban and architectural reconstruction develops resilient cities that are empowered by lessons learned from the past to reinvent themselves for a better future. Immediately after the tragic Port of Beirut blast, UNESCO rushed to conduct rapid assessments and commence the rescue process in different parts of Beirut. The fruits of these labors are becoming increasingly evident today. We thank you for prioritizing universities in your initiative and we thank the Education above All Foundation, which, as it rightly describes itself, is an “enabler of human development”. A long-time friend of AUB, UNESCO has been supporting this university’s cultural initiatives, honoring its outstanding faculty, and partnering with it on youth education and development for decades. It has witnessed first-hand some of the historical significance of the buildings it rescues today on this campus, those that represent more than 150 years of the history of the peoples of this region. These buildings have been the liberal space where more than 70,000 alumni worldwide obtained their education, interacted on campus, and created lifetime memories. They are also where much Arab thought emerged and regional history was shaped. Reconstruction through the Li Beirut initiative will enhance these iconic structures at AUB”.
As for the President of Saint Joseph University in Beirut, Father Salim Daccache, he expressed his thanks and gratitude to UNESCO and the “Li Beirut” initiative, which hastened to help Beirut rise from its depression and supported USJ. “We are appealing to UNESCO today for at least moral and material assistance on three levels, he said. The first is to help anchor our youth in their homeland, so that they can continue to trust their university institutions and higher education in particular. These institutions must remain strong so that students feel that the university in Lebanon will remain impregnable, firm and pioneering in its academic educational mission in education, scientific research and community service. The second is to persuade some universities, especially in Europe, to stop hunting our students so that they don’t lure them with money and equipment, and thus work to empty this country of the elements needed for our institutions to carry out their mission. Thirdly, the need is urgent to support everything related to the field of informatics, such as hardware, software, newspapers, books and electronic magazines, and this constitutes at least forty percent of the annual procurement budget today, since it is a necessity for students, professors and researchers. When we call UNESCO, we consider it the incubator of culture, science and education. Higher education institutions define themselves as holders of a national non-lucrative mission, and who else can be the tool that secures science, education, culture, competencies and skills”.
The explosions at the Beirut Port damaged more than 200 schools, 32 universities and 20 TVET centers, and therefore resulted in diminishing or excluding access to education for over 85,000 children and youth.
Source: National News Agency