The burden on Bilal’s shoulders was too heavy for him to balance between work and education.

Bilal* is standing next to a large piece of cardboard on which the 28 Arabic letters are inscribed. He recognises a few of the characters but takes an extra few seconds to name the others. Bilal is at a critical stage of his childhood. His education has been disrupted after finding himself the only breadwinner among his fatherless siblings. “I had to work to help my family. I dropped out of school for a while and only went back to sit my exams.

“In the final exam, I failed because I all I could think about was finishing the test and heading off straight to work. I couldn’t focus; my thoughts were all in the cheese container.’’ The cheese-making factory to where Bilal headed on that day was not the first place he worked at. At 11, Bilal has already switched between three different jobs with hazardous conditions.

“Before moving to the factory, I had worked in cutting firewood. I used an axe to chop the firewood. Then I moved to work in carpentry. All of them [jobs] were hard, but the worst part is always when I have to wash the milk containers in the factory.’’

Since joining a non-formal education group- also attended by children of different ages- Bilal has shown notable progress. His enthusiasm for education hasn’t waned, but challenges remain.

"I have to focus and listen to my teachers. If I continue to work, my head will hurt. It is difficult."

*Name changed for protection purposes.


Bilal had to find work after his father’s death and took on his first job at the age of nine. Work affected his studies and he remained in the second grade after failing to pass the final tests. Bilal now attends Save the Children’s Self-Help group, opened by the Education team at an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley. The activities, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), identify learning gaps for children and aim to improve their performance at school to prevent any potential drop-outs.