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Tough Times at JLSS

The Labor Union in Lebanon announced a general strike on Wednesday May 7, 2008. Usually, it would be left to our teachers and members of staff to decide if they wanted to join the strike. This time it was different. The security situation was very worrying. There was a lot of political tension in our country which has been without a president for months.
We decided to close the school on that day because we were very concerned about the safety of our students, teachers and members of staff. Children Playing Happily In Spite of the CrisisOur decision was not in support of the strike, because the government had already given a high cost of living raise to all employees with other additional benefits.
Most people realized that the government decision was the most that could be done in a country suffering from an extremely serious economic crisis. The deficit in our school budget jumped up US$ 120,000.00 overnight. Added to the enormous jumps in the cost of diesel, petrol and food products, we realized that our school will be struggling for survival next year.
We did not have the luxury of worrying about tomorrow, as we had more serious immediate concerns.
The pictures on television were a shock to all. We were slowly heading back to the ugly days of war. It was almost unreal. The human being cannot be that stupid. We all remember the evil and ugly days of our dark past. How can this crisis be possible? How can the Lebanese yet again undermine their own government and slowly slip away from the rule of law?
We thought that Wednesday was the worst we would see, and we were very upset; but life goes on, we thought! We had to carry on with normal life even after a very bad day.
The early morning hours following a bad day in Lebanon are very ugly. The phones start ringing very early in the morning: Will the school open today? In a few minutes, with whatever news we have, we need to assess the situation and make a decision that will have serious implication on the lives of hundreds of school children.
School principals in our village, Khirbet Kanafar, know how ugly those moments are, so they all get in touch over the phone to exchange opinions and take the decision together.
Thursday morning May 8 was a difficult one. Although the political tension in Lebanon was very high, it was thought that as our region, West Bikaa, was calm, or so it appeared; why should schools bring additional confusion to the area. We must continue with normal life so schools should open; and how wrong we were!
The first hour of the early morning was business as usual, until a meeting was interrupted by an urgent phone call. It was a school principal from Khirbet informing JLSS that General Security notified him that political tension spilled over to the streets of the area. Hundreds of people were blocking streets in the region. The police barely managed to convince demonstrators to keep the roads open for one hour to allow school-children to return home.
How can one send back around four hundred students to their homes in one hour? To call parents  requires more than that time. But this is Lebanon and it must be done.
The shut down procedure began. The secretary was asked to notify all heads of departments to immediately initiate the process of instant school closure. There was a hitch in the boarding Children Looking for Delicious Pine Seeds and vocational departments. Both heads of departments were trapped away from school because demonstrators were already trying to block the roads. They would both need over an hour to reach school.
The secretary and the head of the academic school took charge assisted by junior staff from both the vocational and boarding departments to accomplish the impossible task.
Amazingly, probably due to the adaptation of the Lebanese people through the long years of war, parents and buses started arriving to school in minutes, even before they were notified. Sooner than the hour was over most of the children were safely back at home.
Those who remained were boarding students so they had to remain in school through the crisis. They were not happy as most of their friends had already left, but their presence graced the school with a wonderful homely atmosphere rather than that of the ghost town it assumes, when the children are away.
The school had the necessities to look after them, so there was no problem at all. Their parents were contented that they would be looked after well, and those in the areas of conflict were delighted that their children were away from their homes in the safety of Schneller School.
Our dedicated team of educators (boarding school staff) took on the tough responsibility of looking after the children the whole twenty four hours of the day in addition to our kitchen staff who also knew they would have to remain at school no matter what the situation outside.
After the tough rush of the first few hours when those who could go had already left, silence and gloom descended. The children who remained were sad because they were not able to go home, and the educators also appeared a bit gloomy, looking ahead to the emergency 24 hour duty of the coming few days, also realizing those who needed them at home would have to manage without them.
The following few hours brought even much worse news. Clashes had already started in Beirut. The airport was closed. The border with Syria was also closed. Televisions were showing the deadly street-fighting in Beirut. The Lebanese army did not prevent what everyone feared, and the unthinkable happened!
The son and daughter of the director in addition to the wife Fun In Spite of Alland two very young daughters of the head of the boarding department among many others were trapped in West Beirut where terrible street fighting was going. Four German people, one volunteer (Christoph Pfeifer), one guest (SES Expert Georg Rossbauer), and two young women who happened to be visiting the area got stranded in JLSS.  Everyone was glued to televisions hoping for good news that never came.
Thursday and Friday were very bad days. Schneller School was OK but two things needed to be done as soon as possible: our German friends needed to be taken to the border with Syria; and the son and daughter of the director in addition to the wife and daughters of the head of the boarding department needed to be brought to the safety of Schneller.
Saturday morning was relatively calm so the director headed to Beirut to bring those stranded there, and the head of the boarding department drove to the border with Syria to enable our German friends to leave the country, among them the volunteer from EMS who would stay in Theodore Schneller School - Amman, until the situation is safe for him to return.
Thank God that both trips were managed safely in spite of the very serious dangers in both. Our German friends left to Amman, and those stranded in Beirut were brought to Schneller in perfect timing. As we sat for lunch together to discuss both adventures and the terrible news of the last few days, we heard on the radio that the roads were closed again just after we returned.
The insanity in Lebanon is unbelievable. The future is uncertain. We pray that God may bless our people with wisdom to come back to sanity and stop this terror and evil, once and for all.
School re-opened on Monday 19 May 2008 after the Beirut agreement was reached restoring peace to Lebanon. This agreement was supervised by a delegation of foreign ministers from the Arab League. We praise God that the Lebanese leaders meeting in Doha - Qatar reached an agreement. We hope and pray that the Doha agreement will bring lasting peace to our country.
We are also delighted that EMS volunteer, Christoph Pfeifer, returned from Amman on Saturday 24th of May to continue his wonderful work with our children.
Schneller School Name in Arabic
Johann Ludwig Schneller Schule

Education for Peace since 1860