Meet Salyne, Teach For Lebanon 2009

Alumni Spotlight

Meet Salyne, Teach For Lebanon 2009

Teach For Lebanon
Teach For Lebanon

Salyne El Samarany is a member of Teach For Lebanon's 2009 cohort. Today, she is the organization's Program Director and acting CEO. These are her reflections:

When I first joined Teach For Lebanon as a Fellow in the first cohort in 2009, all I was hoping to do was to lead a classroom of 25 children in a disadvantaged school in Barsa, North Lebanon, along a more effective learning path. All I could think of at that time was how could I push my students to love learning. 

Never for a second did I think that I would be leading Teach For Lebanon today. Lebanon? Who would want to lead anything in Lebanon? 

When people hear “Beirut” and “Lebanon,” they often think of the 15-year civil war our country experienced, of the devastation done to our capital, and of the religious militias that fought back and forth across the country. Lebanon can produce only about three-quarters of the electricity it needs, so there are frequent power outages, and those who can afford them often use generators. The roads are jammed, day and night. In the news, you hear about the Syrian civil war taking place to our east and north, a struggle that sometimes spills over into the Bekaa Valley and the northern city of Tripoli. Israeli warplanes frequently overfly our skies.

For those who live here, however, that’s not what Lebanon is. Ours is an authentic and beautiful country that has an inexplicable magic of attraction. Once you live here, it becomes hard to live anywhere else in the world. Beirut has rebuilt itself, torn down or repaired most of the buildings damaged in the fighting. Lebanon to me is the core of faith, hope and resurrection. It is a beautiful country, with snow-capped mountains in the winter where skiers from all around the region come. Although new sky-scrapers are going up throughout the city, you can never visit Lebanon and ignore the older, more aesthetically pleasing buildings left over from the ‘50s, the ‘20s, and even the Ottoman Empire.

Education? Not so good. Only about half of our children graduate from high school. Sixty percent of our students go to private schools. The average age of the public school teacher is 58. The national exams—the 9th grade Brevet and 12th grade Bac II—are known for rampant cheating. Teachers strike regularly, right now trying to get the government to give them the pay increase they were promised six months ago. The list goes on. For all these reasons and many more, Teach For Lebanon exits. 

In the past five years, TFL has sent 31 Fellows to work in 13 schools in different regions of Lebanon from Akkar and Daniyyeh in the north to Saida and Hasbaya in the south. The 3,200 students TFL Fellows have worked with since 2009 include Palestinian and recent Syrian refugees, orphans and street children, and others whose futures are clouded by social and economic factors. This year, we have 11 Fellows working in six schools, including the public English-language school in Bakhoun as well as Saida Generations School, which is affiliated with an orphanage, and four semi-private schools. From this base, Teach For Lebanon plans to double the number of placement schools next year, by expanding to additional public and semi-private schools, and placing an additional 20 fellows. 

As I step into my 26th year, acting as a CEO to Teach For Lebanon is a responsibility I cherish. I deeply believe that the Teach For Lebanon program is changing the lives of students and Lebanese youth. It is with much passion, devotion, and love that I enjoy doing a little bit of everything in my position. 

Sometimes I observe classes in Arde, where we have one English-speaking Fellow in a French-speaking Maronite school. Sometimes I meet with public officials, like the Minister of Education, who recently came to realize how effective Teach For Lebanon Fellows are and invited us to work in more public schools. I invest a lot of time in building development strategies, looking for partnerships, reporting to our Board of Trustees and collaborating with the amazing Teach For Lebanon executive team.

Teach For Lebanon is now going through a renovation and reflection phase. We are recruiting our fourth TFL cohort and we intend to expand our Board of Trustees. We will be strengthening alliances with partners and supporters to overcome fundraising challenges and highly value the efforts of our fundraising arm, TFL-US, which helps secure more than 70% of our funds. And, most importantly, we are working hard to instill our core values among staff, Fellows and alumni.

The Teach For All support helps enrich our knowledge base, as we learn from the expertise of diverse countries and redirect our energy toward the appropriate paths while we struggle with our country's education crisis. Our Partner Engagement Director, Jared Hove, who is based in UAE, is indeed a blessing. Jared supports our team and has come to understand the difficulties caused by the uncertainty we face on a daily basis when running the program. 

The TFL experience has taught us to look at the success stories hidden behind every problem, to find solutions and learn from mistakes. Teach For Lebanon has learned a lot so far from its struggles; it has learned how to revive itself. Building on the continuous efforts of the team, the motivation of the Fellows, and the sense of possibility that we see through the eyes of the Lebanese children, our forward momentum becomes clearer every day. It's never about the magnitude of the problem. It's always about the effectiveness of the solution.