By Julian Richter
You see them in the news: children living in refugee camps, bewildered by being uprooted from homes, sometimes without family members. One thing you rarely see is a classroom or any kind of education in the camps. We are hoping to change that through TeachBeyond Borders, an initiative to assemble short-term, quick-response teams that can go to areas where refugees are living and provide education for all ages from elementary school to English classes for adults.
“TeachBeyond Borders grows out of our vision to take the gospel through education to where God would open doors,” said Howard Dueck, Latin America director and the director for this Informal Education service. Andrew and Liz Steggall-Lewis (pictured above on a survey trip), Harold Klassen, David Durance, and others joined him in the task force that prepared the Beyond Borders (as it’s called internally) proposal for the TeachBeyond cabinet.
Liz, the Beyond Borders coordinator, is an MK who grew up in the Middle East and graduated from Black Forest Academy. She and Andrew have a heart for working with refugees. “I feel at home among refugees,” she said. “Being an MK, I understand what it’s like to feel displaced although on a very different scale. Refugee children have experienced tremendous trauma, loss, and uprootedness. I believe education is a vital tool for providing hope for the future and improved well-being. It opens the door to the gospel and can be used to build bridges.”
Refugee Camps Need Schools
During an exploratory trip for the task force, Liz and Andrew visited a camp with several thousand residents that had one small tent and one UNHCR staffer trying to run activities and educational programs for children. “The staffer asked us to please come and help,” Liz said. “Every NGO staffer we talked to asked us to come and start schools. The teams of relief workers who go to the camps help with food, clothing, and shelter – the basic needs. Education is not on their agenda. It is not their expertise.”
Liz and Howard are in conversation with more than 10 relief organizations to find a way to bring an educational piece to the NGO efforts in the camps. The first group Beyond Borders is working with is Trans Asia Partnership, based in Niverville, Manitoba. It has set up 23 “prayer and health centers” in Syria and Iraq near refugee camps, and many of its workers are Christians from a Muslim background. It also prints and distributes Bibles in five languages in seven countries to support the discipleship of new believers.
They also are investigating the possibility of running English camps in Greece in the summer of 2018. Liz explained that Beyond Borders is developing a model program that will be operated outside the refugee camps by teams of volunteers who staff the education centers for the duration of a tourist visa. By operating outside the camp boundaries, the schools have more freedom to incorporate a biblical worldview in their lessons than if they were under the direction of a UN agency. The Middle East is just the tip of the iceberg for educational needs among refugee children. Asia, Africa, and South America have needs, too. One organization in discussion with Beyond Borders works with displaced children in Guatemala.
“We have to consider how these children will end up in a few years,” Howard said. “Some are calling them a lost generation. There is a need for a long-term solution for their education.”
Beyond Borders is working on that solution, one that opens the way for the gospel to reach a vulnerable population. Interested in a short-term assignment with Beyond Borders? Send an email to TBBorders@teachbeyond.org. You can financially support the work with Trans Asia Partnership by giving at this web page: https://give.teachbeyond.org/support/ontap/
Below: Liz and Andrew Steggall-Lewis look toward the coast of Turkey from the island of Lesvos, across a passage of water traversed by many refugees.