French-language Schools at Risk of Closure amid Lebanon's Crisis
Inside the French-language school she has run for years in east Lebanon, Sister Colette Moughabghab welcomed parents devastated by the news the century-old establishment was locking up its classrooms.
Books are stacked by the stairs leading to the playground that will no longer see pupils flood in autumn, after the school became the latest victim of a crippling economic crisis.
"I did everything to obtain financial aid... but in vain," said Moughabghab, who has run Our Lady of Lourdes in the eastern town of Zahle for four years, AFP reported.
"It's like closing up a home," she added.
In Lebanon, the first French schools were set up in the 19th century before the country came under French mandate in 1920 until its independence in 1943.
Until recent years, Lebanon's French-speaking schools, mostly private, taught 500,000 children -- equivalent to around half of all pupils nationwide. But the country's worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war has left them battling to stay afloat as parents struggle to pay fees.
"It's catastrophic," says Father Boutros Azar.
"Fifty to 70 schools in our network risk closing" by September, Azar said.
"Without the Catholic schools, there will be no French-speaking education in Lebanon."
According to AFP, Lebanon's economic crisis has seen tens of thousands of Lebanese lose their jobs or take pay cuts since the autumn.
With banks capping dollar withdrawals, the Lebanese pound has lost up to 80 percent of its value on the black market, sparking alarming inflation and plunging a large segment of the population into poverty.
In Sister Colette's office in Zahle, the parents of seven-year-old Julien and his younger brother are worried about the future.
Other parents plan to send their children to other private schools when the new term begins, but Julien's father Samer said he is cash strapped.
"I make about 1.2 million Lebanese pounds a month, which is now worth just a little more than 150 dollars," instead of 800 a year ago, said Samer, who declined to give his surname.
"I won't be able to pay for my second son to go to (private) school next year," said the 47-year-old.
A source at the education ministry said 120,000 pupils were expected to join state-run schools next year, as their parents could no longer afford sending them to private ones.
But that would be an added burden on the public education system.