Brummana High School, founded by Quakers Eli and Sybil Jones and Theophilus Waldmeier 150 years ago, is high in the hills east of Beirut, Lebanon.
Brummana Friends Meeting together with Ramallah Friends Meeting in Palestine comprise Near East Yearly Meeting. Each Meeting has care of a school. Brummana High School and Ramallah Friends School, each co-ed day schools, are the only two Quaker schools in the Middle East.
David Gray is Principal of Brummana High School (BHS). After 25 years as a school administrator in the UK and despite thinking he was heading for retirement, David accepted a call to become principal of BHS in 2019. David presented to a virtual audience of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, PYM Middle East Collaborative, and other interested attendees in the evening of October 18, 2022.
A gifted orator and story-teller, David spoke of the complexities and challenges of the economic collapse in Lebanon. A brief film showed harvesting of cedar trees in Lebanon, some legally but some illegally by a desperate father who could find no other source of fuel to keep his family warm. David outlined the realities of inflation in Lebanon following the closing of bank accounts: whereas 1 US dollar was 1,500 Lebanese lire (LL) as recently as 2018, currently 1 USD – 40,000LL. Thus a teacher’s salary has less than one tenth the buying power of just a few years ago. A different example David Gray cited was his two different, recent taxi fares to the Beirut airport; in two weeks’ time the increase was 50%. The economic crisis in Lebanon has been labeled one of the three worst collapses ever in the last 160 years by the World Bank.
The dire economic circumstance has directly affected Brummana High School. While enrollment remains at over 1000 students in Kindergarten to 12th grade, the greatly reduced tuition has seriously challenged operations. Staff have left; it is hard for David to maintain morale among his faculty and staff.
Brummana High School offers American/Western style of teaching and learning in an atmosphere characterized by its foundational Quaker values. David emphasized that, despite all the challenges of today, Brummana High School must and will survive. The values based education teaches children critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and healthy, respectful non-violent conflict resolution. As merely one example, David read an essay by one of his students in English literature. Her commentary was an assignment asking for reflections on a scene in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Her analysis was empathetic, introspective, clearly written perspectives of the two lead characters in the scene.
David sees the future of Lebanon as resting in the hands and hearts of the concerned, dedicated students at BHS. Righting the complex combination of factors facing Lebanon today will take time, surely. Lebanese are both historically and currently tremendously resilient. Brummana High School graduates will be in positions of leadership, problem solving that will help the country move forward to a much stronger future so that, once again, Lebanon will be the beauty of the eastern Mediterranean.
David’s whirlwind tour of the United States took him to New York (Brooklyn Friends Meeting, in-person), Ohio, and Pennsylvania [Westtown School and Meeting (in person), Newtown Meeting (online), Pennswood Village in Newtown (in person), Arch Street Meeting House (online), Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (online), Middle East Collaborative (online), and Abington Friends School and Meeting].
Please donate to Brummana High School (K-12) in order to sustain the employees and current students.
A recording of David Gray’s October 18 online presentation is available on the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Your Tube Channel.
Please connect with David Gray (email@example.com) in Lebanon should you have questions or concerns regarding Brummana High School’s challenging future.
Thank you, David Gray, for sharing your stories and experiences, and your unwavering commitment to Brummana High School and the employees and bright future of your inspiring students. We look forward to your next and hopefully longer visit with us in the United States.