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For this month’s Peek at Our Partners we interviewed Jennifer Ibrahim of ANERA, who worked with IBB to get thousands of books to Syrian refugees in Lebanon last year thanks to a generous donation from We-Care.com

What is ANERA’s mission?

JI: American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) advances the well-being of people in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan. Through partnerships and close consultation with local groups and communities, ANERA responds to economic, health and educational needs with sustainable solutions and also delivers humanitarian aid during emergencies.

How important are books and educational materials to ANERA’s overall educational goals?

JI: Education has the power to transform lives. For many people in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon, poverty and conflict get in the way of a proper education. By leading the way in early childhood development, building new schools and classrooms, teaching information technology, and providing vocational training to young adults who need job skills, ANERA’s education projects help provide children and youth in the Middle East with access to diverse learning opportunities. The books and educational materials we have received through IBB and distributed throughout Lebanon further our goal of helping children uncover their educational potential.

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IBB and ANERA recently worked together to send 13,744 books to Lebanon, a country in which an estimated 1 out of every 4 inhabitants is a Syrian refugee. How does conflict impact education?

JI: School is a safe haven for children who have been displaced by and seriously affected by conflict. With all of the instabilities in their lives, it gives them a sense of normalcy. And yet, because of the extreme influx of refugees, schools serving refugees in Lebanon are chronically overcrowded. Many schools are operating in shifts due to the high volume of incoming children and teacher-to-student ratios are much higher than they should be. The schools we supported simply do not have the funding to keep up. The books IBB and ANERA sent to Lebanon are a huge help to these struggling schools.

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ANERA distributed some of these books to the Mama Reads program – why is women’s literacy a priority for ANERA?

JI: Research has found that the key to narrowing the gap between children’s academic achievement in poor and middle class neighborhoods is mother’s literacy. Literate mothers provide children with their first exposure to the written word before they even enter the school doors and keep our interest piqued after school and on weekends. A literate mother is much better able to help their child with homework reading assignments. I think this is especially important in a refugee context where schools are overcrowded and teachers have no time to engage with children one-on-one. Additionally, older children are much more likely to feel obligated to leave school and help their family earn a living if they don’t have a literate parent who is encouraging them to continue their learning.

What are you reading right now?

JI: I’m actually in between books at the moment (just recently finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed). But my 2.5 year old is a voracious reader and we are constantly at the library picking out new books. Our current favorite children’s books are The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown.