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Interview Kassem Muhammad Naserdin, Brighter Futures Project

1 June 2021
“I want us to be able to provide our students with quality education to give them a Brighter Future.”

Kassem Muhammad Naserdin is a driven and ambitious young person with an open personality who is sensitive to the needs of his students and seeks out opportunities to innovate the education at his institution. He started in 2014 as a Computer Science teacher and since 2018 he is also the principal at Al Kayrawan, a Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institute located in the Bekaa region in Lebanon. In the Bekaa region reside the highest number of refugees in Lebanon coming from Palestine and Syria. Therefore, Al Kayrawan is dealing with the challenges of citizens who have experienced many traumatic events and loss. The Centre for International Cooperation of VU Amsterdam (CIS-VU) is mainly working with a Lebanese TVET institute “CIS-College”, who is part of a large Educational Group in Lebanon (CIS Group) and SPARK NGO in the Nuffic-funded TMT-plus project “Brighter Futures” to build capacity of staff members to provide adequate and quality support and education to refugee students. Besides Al Kayrawan, two local organizations, the Renovation and Development Association (RDA) and Learning Through Action (LTA) also benefit through the project. In this article, Kassem has shared his experience of educating refugee students to provide them with a better future.

What are some of the common challenges that teachers experience at Al Kayrawan?
The student population at Al Kayrawan needs particular care and support, Kassem explains. I grew up in Bekaa myself and know many people from Palestine and Syria. That is how I already knew, even before I started working at Al Kayrawan, the hardships of many people. They have suffered major losses, including losing their houses and family members. Therefore, psychosocial support is essential to offer the right services to students, but also to learn about methods of self-care for teachers. Moreover, considering the financial crisis in Lebanon, we also want to equip the students with life skills and entrepreneurship skills, so they have the capacity to work independently and to be able to provide for their families. However, this is challenging.

Considering your intense contact and experience with refugee students, is there something particular that inspires you about this student group?
I have been teaching at Al Kayrawan for almost 6 years now. I started in 2014, at the peak of the refugee crisis, and have seen the situation aggravate since then. It is painful to hear the stories of students who have experienced so much at such a young age. But at the same time, I find it very inspiring to see the willingness and motivation of young people to fight and make the best of their life. It made me realize how one’s perspective in life can give so much strength. I use these students as an example in many conversations to make people realize how grateful we should be for what we have. But also, that we can learn from them, from their hard work and mindset.

What is your dream for these students?
The truth is that the life of this group is not easy. My hope for them is to keep their aspiration and commitment to have a good life. To achieve this, I want us to be able to provide these students with quality education to give them a brighter future. We are obliged to stick to the Lebanese curriculum, but we need to encompass the differences and adapt to the circumstances and needs of the students. I therefore try to create a safe environment in my classes and have conversations with my students about their struggles. Also, I believe that doing this will not only help the refugee students to process and cope with their history, but it is also important that the Lebanese students remain aware of this reality of our country. Previously, students with a refugee background were more often discriminated against, but as time passed, students opened up and gained more awareness about each other. Now I have to say that Lebanese and refugee students collaborate in harmony in the classroom. 

As a teacher at Al Kayrawan, what do you wish for your organization and do you have a personal development goal or ambition for the future?
Some teachers do not have the desire and the will to change and try new things. The training in this project is helping them to open their eyes and make life easier. The more we learn, the better we become at providing education. Here comes the importance of training, every year if possible.

On a personal level, I have many dreams that I would like to achieve, but not all of them can come true within 10 years. I set my plans on an annual basis, instead of long-term goals. I tried to do so in the past, but it does not work for me. If I would get the opportunity, I would like to continue my education. Ideally, a master’s degree from a university abroad. And after this, I would like to come back at my current institute and hopefully be able to support the students even better.

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