Photo: Tent Schools International
Children at work in a tent school in Lebanon.
Photo by Tent Schools International

Worldwide Christian Schools, a non-denominational ministry recommended for support by the Christian Reformed Church, recently changed its name to Tent Schools International to better reflect a new focus it has taken for ministry.

That focus reflects the reality that more and more young students actually attend classes in tents set up in refugee camps in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, said Dale Dieleman, vice president of Tent Schools International.

“Efficient and easy to raise, tent schools create places of safety, peace and Jesus’ love where learning can flourish again, or for the first time for many children,” said Dieleman.

For nearly 30 years, Worldwide Christian Schools worked with Christian schools across the developing world in a variety of ways, ranging from teacher training to helping provide resources to build schools,

But staff of the ministry began to reassess their outreach and emphasis in the the three years following the organization’s 25th anniversary, said Dieleman.

“We have always focused on the educational needs of children in the ‘marginalized’ communities around the world, but we wanted to strategically identify a segment of the most marginalized children with whom to strategically focus our resources for greater impact,” he said.

Through a series of prayer and planning sessions, the staff “identified our focus would be with children who have been displaced by natural disasters or become refugees from war-torn areas.”

As a result, the organization, which is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., had two reasons for changing the name from Worldwide Christian Schools to Tent Schools International.

“First,  we wanted a name that would specifically reflect the work that we would be doing, which is with Christian partners primarily in refugee camps who were reaching children by setting up tent schools within the camps. Worldwide Christian Schools was too broad a name for our new mission.”

Second, he said, they realized that many regions, such as the Middle East, where refugee children are found tend to be hostile to Christian organizations.

“Therefore, our name Tent Schools International fits this new, more targeted mission. Tent schools can quickly be set up to provide a calm, child-friendly setting for learning amid the chaos of forced displacement, relocation and camp life,” said Dieleman.

Nearly 70 percent of youth in Lebanese refugee camps, where his organization is currently working, “are denied access to any form of schooling due to discrimination, distance, safety, family finances or overcrowding,” said Dieleman.

“When hope vanishes, disillusionment takes over. The UN reports that 89 percent of school-aged youth are suffering from mental or psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety,” he said.

But the tent schools offer hope.

One worker, who is helping to establish tent schools in Lebanon, said tent schools fill an important need for the young students.

“They have all gone through major traumas,” he said. “We have seen their learning abilities restored only through blending learning with games, singing, art, and fun activities. These kids turn 180 degrees when we teach them new songs and tell them stories.”