BEIRUT: When highlighting a university’s prominence, scant regard is paid to the departments that promote philanthropic programs. The Lebanese American University’s ROAD (Reach Out and Dazzle) program is an altruistic initiative that it is part of the university’s Outreach and Civic Engagement Department in collaboration with the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Development.
The purpose behind the program is to teach, guide, entertain, and inspire Lebanon’s underprivileged children through various educational activities. Each Thursday, volunteers from the university’s currently-enrolled students along with some alumni go to OLA (Outreach & Leadership Academy) in Saida where ROAD sessions are held for the surrounding community’s schoolchildren.
Hiba Ramadan, the Outreach and Leadership Coordinator, told Annahar that since the program was initiated in mid-2017, 125 sessions have been held. It all began as reading sessions where the volunteers would sit with the children and read them age-appropriate books to make them intellectually-intrigued about the stories.
“With time, we decided to conduct evaluations to assess our strengths, weaknesses, and understand how we could improve. So, we enhanced the sessions to encompass not only reading but also exercises related to the children’s subjects at school,” explained Ramadan.
Every week, the department prepares booklets with exercises about different subjects that are distributed to the children who come to the sessions in OLA. There are several booklets, and each child is given one depending on his/her age. Sessions usually last for one hour, and the number of volunteers ranges from 10 to 20 while the number of students ranges from 10 to 40.
Ramadan also explained to Annahar that “we as volunteers try to help the children as much as possible because as underprivileged students attending public schools in precarious conditions, they are not truly offered any kind of help to study or do their homework after school. So, we fulfill that role.”
During summer 2019, the program also expanded geographically to include other regions besides Saida. ROAD sessions were implemented in several orphanages across Lebanon, including Beirut, Aley, Bourj Hammoud, and Chouf.
Ramadan then added that in order to make the children feel entertained while learning, the volunteers also prepare seasonal activities related to Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Independence Day, etc. It is also important to highlight that the pedagogical methods used during the sessions are not purely pedantic; the volunteers make the children learn in a variety of innovative ways.
For example, the children are taught about recycling by being shown the different kinds of materials that should be recycled, and are taught the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods through illustrative pictures and diagrams.
The mission of the program is to make these children better citizens by instilling not only knowledge in them but also morals and values so that they can adopt a positive life perspective and become promoters of change themselves. When volunteers were asked how the program had inspired them, their answers were as vivid as their energy.
“I have always loved volunteering, and as selfish as this might sound, being a volunteer is as important to the volunteer as it is to the recipients of our help. Volunteering changes your life perspective by making you more tolerant and appreciative of diversity, and it fills your heart with gratitude,” explained Marianne Al Awar who participated in several ROAD sessions.
Dana Marouni, another volunteer noted that “these children are expected to be the saviors of our country, and knowing that I had a significant role in making that possible is the fulfillment of one of my life’s goals.”
The Lebanese American University aims through such programs to engender a culture of benevolence where its students are offered diverse opportunities to contribute to ameliorating their society, for that is the only way to establish a society where compassion and human welfare are not only endorsed but also highly prioritized.
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