Memories of BHS by Gillian Turner – BHS Gives 2nd – 3rd December 2021

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Share this article:

I joined the Brummana High School staff at the beginning of the momentous 2004/2005 academic year, which began as the school continued its recovery after the long Lebanese Civil War, and ended with the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Mine was an unexpected short-term contract, filling in for a sudden vacancy for a Pastoral Head in the Upper School, and included my husband as a volunteer in the boarding school department. 

I quickly realised the level of loyalty displayed by all the staff, office, teaching and casual, towards the school. Many had taught there for the whole or a great deal of their teaching career. They had been past students and sent their children in their turn.  The school is the centre of the village: parents, students and staff  live locally or in suburbs of Beirut.

The school’s Quaker foundation and history are well known and appreciated. It is the meeting place of the only Quaker meeting in Lebanon. All the local Quaker families had been students or taught in the school, and all are keenly interested in its well-being. British Quaker Trustees visit the school and meet local governors and staff regularly. There are always a number of Quaker teachers from abroad on short-term contracts before university or following retirement.

The Quaker ethos of service is a built-in part of school life for staff as well as the student body. An afternoon a week is timetabled for charitable activities. I remember the Saturdays clearing litter from the beach with the senior students and staff, and another planting saplings in an area reclaimed from land mines. There were parties for children from local  hospitals and orphanages, a tradition that still continues. A letter of thanks published recently in the school newspaper from the principal of Al Amal Institute for the Disabled , commented on the responsibility and respect shown by our students during their Acceptance and Awareness Programme. All this civic training for our young people is underpinned by our staff.

Neither the village nor the school grounds escaped violence during the civil war. Colleagues told us how they and the school had fared ; we could see for ourselves the bullet holes in church buildings along the green line. The realities of life in in post-civil war Lebanon became clear to us. Cars were routinely searched entering supermarket car parks; the fear of car bombs was part of daily life. On trips outside Beirut we were stopped by Syrian army blockades. There were intermittent gun battles between the Lebanese army and armed militia. US owned businesses had armed guards posted outside. Meanwhile school life proceeded in the usual way. All the annual events on the school calendar were organised by staff and enjoyed by the students. Tests and exams, sports events, assemblies, activities –   all took place as usual regardless of events outside the school gates, offering the school community security and hope for the future. They continue to do so during these truly dreadful times.

At midday on 21 February 2005, we heard the explosion of the car bomb that killed Rafic Hariri along with 21 others,  and saw the huge plume of smoke rise up above the port. This was a major catastrophe in a country just beginning to recover after the destruction of the civil war.  There followed a series of  car bombs throughout the country, including one outside the school grounds that shattered the windows of the science block and my office. Somehow the spirit of the people rallied around their flag, religious groups worked together to promote harmony, law and order was maintained, and staff and students threw themselves enthusiastically into the last months of the school year, culminating in public and school exams, Sports Day, the Prom,  final assemblies and farewells.

At midday on August 4  2020, in the midst of the pandemic and crippled by economic meltdown, an explosion ripped through the port of Beirut with the force of an earthquake, killing and injuring 300,000 people. This was more than a catastrophe; it signalled the breakdown of a whole country, with emigration, loss of properties and employment, huge inflation and terrible poverty.

A year later, the school carries on, with staff who have no money to pay for food, fuel or medication. Principal David Gray and his team are working tirelessly to keep the school viable, to support those staff who remain and to enable them to teach our young people who are so eager to be taught and to grow. Trustees, Governors, Old Scholars, Friends of the School have all

responded to appeals for financial support for our indispensable staff, as well as bursaries for our students.  Somehow we must enable this unique school to continue.      

Gillian Turner

Click on the link below to see the BHS Gives page.

A beacon of light in troubled Lebanon