Lebanon: The 100 Kilometer Trek to Class
By: Amal Khalil
Published Monday, September 17, 2012
For Izdihar Faour, a second year Arabic literature student at Lebanese University in Zahleh, the old Arabic expression “seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China” is depressingly apt: she spends over 4 hours a day commuting to and from school.
Faour lives in Ain Tanta, a village near Khelwat in the Hasbaya district of South Lebanon. On days she has class, she wakes up at 5 a.m to catch the bus which makes stops in Khelwat, Hasbaya, Mimes and al-Kafir. Once the bus has collected everyone, it takes another two hours to reach the Zahleh campus in Central Bekaa. Even if she doesn’t have a lecture in the morning, Faour still must wake up early as the bus is her only transport to and from school. The same thing applies in the evening. The bus schedule is more important than her class schedule if she wants to get home safely. If there is a conflict in the schedules, then she does not attend the lecture.
Studying Arabic literature was not Faour’s dream.
“It was one of the majors available which would guarantee a job in the area,” she says.
Faour says that she lost a whole year after graduation because she initially chose to study law. She had to change her major because law required full attendance, and her long commute made it impossible.
Nevertheless, Faour seems to be happy with Arabic literature and does not mind the hardship of traveling even during the harsh winter months. Many of her female friends from high school have not had the opportunity to continue their education. She says that some parents are not able to pay for transport, while others simply refuse to send their daughters to other areas of the country to study because they have to spend many hours on the road and are sometimes late coming back home.
“Female students particularly look for a closer place [to study],” says Faour, who admits that the long daily commute affects her energy levels and concentration.
Four years ago, activist Nidal Issa conducted a study on the predicament of Marjeyoun and Hasbaya’s young people hoping to further their education. His study looked at access to university education in the two districts, as well as in Rashaya, in the adjacent valley.
The study concluded that a new branch of the Lebanese University, and other private universities, should be established to meet the educational needs of the population, estimated at 950,000 across 86 towns, and generally considered to be socially, religiously and politically conservative.
With the exception of the department of tourism, hotels and business administration at the Lebanese University, which recently opened a school in the town of Dahr al-Ahmar in Rashaya, the nearest university is in Nabatiyeh, 50 kms away from Hasbaya. Universities in the Bekaa Valley are 100 kms away and those in Beirut are 130 kms away.
The long commute to school, especially for those coming from small towns and villages where the public transport system is weak, has prompted some families to reconcile themselves with the idea of young people moving away in order to study.
But paying for city accommodations for their children is economically unfeasible for many families. Some parents choose to simply move the entire family to the city where the parents can find work and be close to their children while they study and live at home. The children of these families may get the opportunity to pursue their education, but the towns lose valuable human assets.
Issa’s study estimates that 2,600 people from the area are continuing their higher education at universities in the Bekaa, Beirut and Nabatiyeh. It proposes that a university complex be built for the three districts of Hasbaya, Rashaya and Marjeyoun, not only to fulfill the needs of their young people, but also to improve the local economy.
This will not only stop internal migration, it will also attract Arab students who come to Lebanese universities. The study explains that it is cheaper to rent in the area, where the cost of living is lower, and it is quieter and safer than many other towns and cities in Lebanon.
The MP for Hasbaya and Marjeyoun, Ali Fayyad, is one of the most prominent advocates for establishing a branch of the Lebanese University in the area. During parliament’s latest legislative session, he called for a new branch to be built.
In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Fayyad explained that the majority of local high school graduates, about 270 a year, opt to study sociology and economics at university. He thinks this fact should be taken into consideration when deciding on the nature of the college to be built there.
The idea of establishing an institute for science and technology, similar to the one in Sidon, had also been discussed with Zuhair Shukr, the former president of the Lebanese University. On paper, the institute would allow students to specialize to the level of assistant engineer with the opportunity to complete their studies in France for two years to become fully qualified engineers.
However, after some careful investigation, it turned out that the institute would be very expensive to build and operate, and students would only be able to get their full degree by studying in France.
So far, it seems there is a consensus to establish an LU Faculty of Science two-year college, after which students would have to continue studying in Nabatiyeh or Beirut. A parallel discussion has been going on about where to build this branch. Fayyad has suggested that it be established in the empty campus of the Ebel al-Saqi secondary school, because it is located on the main road between Hasbaya and Marjeyoun, but some influential figures have demanded that it should be established in the town of Khiam, because it is the largest town in the area.
Despite increased political interest in the subject, it seems the issue will not be resolved in the near future as the cabinet has yet to take official action.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.