On the half-a-square-mile of land that comprises Shatila refugee camp, tangled electrical wires suffocate drab buildings.
Mopeds race through narrow alleys, which are scattered with trash and rubble. Old men sit inside makeshift shops, selling fruit or cigarettes. Mothers hang laundry from any empty space they can find. Children wander the streets, often barefoot.
Shatila, which was set-up in 1949 to house 3,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is now spilling over with some 22,000 people. Many of the camp’s newest residents are impoverished refugees from Syria, victims of the violence that has left millions displaced.
An Exciting Day at the Najdeh Association
This is the backdrop to Najdeh Association, the oldest community center and preschool in the camp. The preschool’s heavy metal doors are painted pink. Inside, Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese children play games, draw pictures and begin learning to read. Today, there’s a lot of excitement in the classroom.
Sitting on a cushion on the floor, four-year-old Nour sheds a tear. She’s watching her fellow preschoolers put on brand new TOMS Shoes and she can’t bear waiting a second longer to get her own pair. But finally, it’s her turn to get her feet measured. As her teacher helps her slip a bright red pair of TOMS on her feet, Nour’s face breaks into a shy, contented smile.
This month, all 70 students at the preschool received brand new pairs of TOMS Shoes. The preschoolers are now wearing them gleefully as they play on the playground – located on the roof of the two-story building because of the lack of space.
Quality Shoes Are Vital for Child Health
But the shoes will be the most helpful when the kids leave Najdeh. Outside the walls of the preschool, the space is less child-friendly. Comfortable, high-quality shoes keep children from stepping on sharp, dangerous objects or contracting parasites and other diseases.
Maryam Abada, the administrator of the Najdeh preschool, explains that most families living in Shatila refugee camp simply can’t afford to purchase new shoes. “Most of the students come from poor families and live in destitute conditions.”
Though the school offsets tuition payments for the most impoverished refugees, including many Palestinian refugees from Syria, many families still ask to defer tuition payments. That’s one of the reasons the Najdeh Association needs help in providing quality care for youngsters in the camp. Last year, Anera helped renovate the preschool by painting walls, constructing safe stairs, improving electrical safety and installing insulation for the roof to prevent mold.
The delivery of TOMS Shoes is part of a holistic approach to educating and caring for young refugees in Lebanon. Throughout Lebanon, Anera is distributing 48,900 pairs of TOMS Canvas Shoes this scholastic year.