We support educational initiatives for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which is within walking distance of the Syrian border. More than half of refugee families there suffer extreme poverty, barely getting by on less than 2 dollars per person per day. These children are growing up in informal tented settlements, sleeping in improvised substandard structures that are overcrowded, unsanitary, inadequate in heavy rain and subzero temperatures, and empty of all but the most basic household assets.
Despite considerable efforts by the Lebanese government and both international and local nongovernmental organizations, a quarter of a million Syrian refugee children who live in Lebanon are still out of school. This is after a decade of war in neighboring Syria, a violent conflict so brutal that the United Nations stopped counting its human casualties. And, like most wars in history, innocent civilians have suffered more than armed combatants.
In Lebanon, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees registered just over a million displaced Syrians, half of whom were children, before it stopped counting them as well – that was in 2015. A safe estimate is that there are still more than 1.5 million refugees in a country which had a prewar population of approximately 4.5 million citizens. Lebanon still has more refugees per capita than any other nation in the world and hosts the 4th largest refugee population overall.
In 2019, a nationwide financial crisis began to decimate the Lebanese economy. The catastrophic effects of this crisis are ongoing and have been exacerbated by the global pandemic. Lebanese families are suffering from increasing levels of poverty. The need to help both Syrian refugees and their Lebanese host community has never been greater.
Friends of Kayany, Inc. has an all-volunteer staff and pays no salaries. The money we raise goes directly to fund the needs of children in Lebanon.
Our grants create and support schools that are built specifically for the refugee children. They teach the official Lebanese curriculum to students of primary and secondary school age. The schools are accredited by the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Without them, many of these children would receive no education whatsoever. Aside from academic programs, we help provide students with climate-controlled classrooms, daily meals, and proper sanitation and bathroom facilities.
We also support two all-girls secondary schools where older students also receive computer classes and vocational training in nurse’s aide, embroidery, sewing, hairdressing, and cosmetics. They benefit from women protection programs that teach them about the potential risks of exploitation and provide them with coping strategies for specific challenges they face, such as being pressured into early marriages.
We work with experienced local implementing partners, such as the Kayany Foundation, on projects involving the European Union, the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNESCO, the Malala Fund, the United Nations Women for Peace Association, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Save the Children, among others.
Aida is cofounder of Friends of Kayany, Inc. and a lifelong advocate for women’s education in the Middle East. She helped establish Effat University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - the first liberal arts college for women in the Kingdom. She served on the Advisory Board for the Lebanese American University's Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, and also on the Board of the Near East Foundation, the United States' oldest non-sectarian international development organization, supporting the training of women's associations in Palestine, Jordan and Morocco. She was a founding member of Kayany Foundation, which builds and operates schools for Syrian refugee children.
Carol is cofounder and former President of Friends of Kayany, Inc. She was Chief Judge of the bankruptcy court of Massachusetts, and Chief Judge of the bankruptcy appellate panel for the First Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a founding member and former Vice President and Board member of the Women’s Bar Association. She was Chair of the Advisory Committee on financial education at the Federal Judicial Center. She was also a member of the Executive Committee and a Board member of the Guild for Human Services, a nonprofit organization that provides special educational services and residential services for children, teens and young adults. She is a member of the Executive Committee, and also a Board member, of CapeAbilities Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts that educates, counsels, and provides residential, therapeutic, social and employment support for individuals with disabilities.
Bandar is President and Treasurer of Friends of Kayany, Inc. He attended Amherst College and holds graduate degrees from Goldsmiths, University of London, and Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Previously he worked as congressional liaison for an embassy in Washington, DC, and before that at a communications firm where he focused on government and media relations for Middle Eastern clients.
Shirine is an architect (AIA, LEED AP) specializing in sustainable design with expertise in STEM and health sciences education. Her clients have included Yale University, Michigan State University, Cuyahoga Community College, and the University of Mississippi. Her experience in the programming, planning, and design of projects for the colleges and universities market sector has focused not only on the complexities of the buildings, but on designing facilities with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Shirine is highly committed to advancing design technologies that reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions toward a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. She is a sought-after participant in national platforms that explore questions of how students learn, how space affects learning outcomes, the significance of technology in education, and cross-disciplinary and problem-based learning. She is a committee member of the Boston Society of Architects’ Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children.
Gail is an attorney, mediator and teacher in Massachusetts. She was Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk, Middlesex and Plymouth Counties, Chief Counsel to the Division of Professional Licensure, Legal Counsel to the Cambridge City Solicitor, and an Assistant Attorney General, where she grant-funded and managed Mediation Programs throughout the communities and District Courts of the Commonwealth. She was a partner in the law firm of Keith, Reed, Wheatley and Frenette and currently serves on the Medical Tribunal Board and volunteers with the Women’s Bar Association, Domestic Violence Project.
She began her teaching career in 2009 and has concentrated in professional studies and international programs, teaching law, business and government related courses, as well as public speaking and freshmen seminars. She served as the Director of the Mount Ida College First Year Experience Task Force in 2012, developed training and workshops for faculty, has been an instructor at Tufts University Experimental College, Bay State, Fisher and MassBay Community Colleges, the Cambridge Police Academy, and MA Continuing Legal Education, Inc. She is a frequent guest lecturer in colleges and universities, including Morehouse College Semester at Sea Enrichment Program, and has conducted community outreach, education and training programs for the Attorney General, Commonwealth of MA, City of Cambridge, and many professional and trade organizations. She also served on the Governor’s Legal Education Task Force for Government Lawyers.
Jessica is the Pinto Legal Fellow with the International Advocacy and Litigation team at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. She received her J.D. from Georgetown Law with a certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies, and was a recipient of the 2021 Bettina E. Pruckmayr Award for Human Rights. Jessica's commitment to protection of human rights includes her work for Crisis Action in Beirut, at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and at the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre. She was previously the Director of Philanthropy at Epsilon Alpha Sigma (better known as the Empowered Arab Sisterhood), where she oversaw the annual Remembering the Refugee initiative across 6 college campuses. Epsilon Alpha Sigma has a long track record of successful fundraising for refugee assistance, and in particular of supporting the education of Syrian refugee children. She holds a B.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Wassim is a cofounder and former Board member of Friends of Kayany, Inc. He is a longtime investor in global biotechnology and medical device companies, as well as an avid and widely recognized collector of international contemporary art. He was instrumental in organizing the Syri-Arts auction in Beirut in 2013 and the Syri-Arts auction at Christie's in 2018, both of which benefitted Syrian refugee children. He is a major benefactor of a large orphanage center in Lebanon, and has established and provides ongoing funding for twelve high school and college scholarships for Lebanese students every year. In addition, he is a benefactor of Ain owe Zein Hospital, where he has enabled new construction, and where he also established scholarships for students in the nursing school. He is a graduate of New York University.