Lebanese seniors get a second chance at education

“Should I stop everything and stay in bed waiting for death because I’m 85?”

This is how Mariam Koubaissy sums up her vision of life. This grandmother decided to enroll in the University for seniorsaffiliated with the American University of Beirut.

“When I got married, I forgot about myself. I focused on my family. My dreams stopped for a while, but they never died, because I believe that dreams don’t die if a person is ambitious and strong,” Koubaissy told Al-Monitor.

Koubaissy’s childhood dream was to learn to draw, but health conditions prevented her from focusing on this talent as she was already missing school.

As an adult, work and family occupied his time, but “I watched the students come and go and I dreamed that one day I would be one of them,” Koubaissy said. “Now, half a century later, my dream has come true and I have walked through those doors. I remember when I reached the main entrance, I stood there for a few minutes in amazement, not believing that it had finally happened.

A few days after joining the university, “I was walking in the garden of the university and a young man and his friend were looking at me, and I heard him say to him: ‘Look at this old lady, what is what is she doing here?’ and she replied, “Well, this old lady is our new classmate.” I looked left and right looking for the old lady they were talking about because I really didn’t feel like one.

She noted, “I don’t want to use the cliché ‘Age is just a number’, but I really believe that I’m not different from all the students here, I’m more active and full of energy. ‘hope. The difference between me and young people is the color of the hair and some wrinkles. Gray hair can be covered with dye. I always swim and walk; my physical health is excellent and I have no illness. My eyesight is very good for my age and my memory is excellent. Meanwhile, you hear of young people dying or suffering from disease, so what more do I need to enjoy life? My health is fine and my soul is eager to learn and fulfill dreams.

Some people questioned Koubaissy’s decision to enroll in drawing lessons, but some of these critics later became his classmates. “Instead of wasting time chatting, I spend my time learning and keeping my memory and body active, between drawing and exercising.”

AUB Senior University is the first of its kind in Lebanon and the region. It’s been a big hit ever since. based in 2010 by doctor of health sciences Abla Sibai and her colleague Cynthia Mintty. And even today, despite all the frustrating economic and social conditions in Lebanon, older people are still eager to learn. But after the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, most courses are now delivered remotely.

Studies have shown that staying mentally and physically active helps people age healthier, program manager Maya Abi Chahine told Al-Monitor. Moreover, 11% of the Lebanese population is over 65, and this number is increasing, and many elderly people in Lebanon live alone while their children and grandchildren live abroad.

“This program aims to provide moral and health support to the elderly who, after returning to university, are the ones who bring support and hope to young people and their families,” said Abi Chahine.

The university is open to anyone over 50, regardless of background, Abi Chahine noted. She said the school provides language lessons in French, Spanish and English. The online classes, which started because of the pandemic, have “helped enroll students from the Gulf, the United States and Africa”.

The educational program consists of two three-month semesters in the fall and spring. Students can attend any class of their choice, not just the ones they originally registered for. No graduation certificates are given to students as the aim is to make learning fun.

Courses available include neuroscience, astrophysics, political science, public health and women’s affairs, as well as courses in the arts such as drawing, painting and music, and courses in meditation and meditation. Agriculture.

Abi Chahine explained that around 500 people register every year, at a cost of around 400,000 Lebanese pounds. [$20 according to the current exchange rate on the black market] for each semester. “We are not raising our prices because we are not looking to make a profit, but rather to support older people because we believe that these people have the right to fulfill their desires and dreams,” she said. underline.

Former banker Youssef Bakri, 84, took various courses at university for 10 years. “I didn’t want to stay home aimlessly because boredom kills people,” he told Al-Monitor. “Studies are food for the brain, and among the various lectures there are lessons in psychology that support us a lot at our age.”

Bakri stressed that this experience is not limited to education. “Before the pandemic, we would all meet in the university garden, exchange conversations, reminisce about the past, not to mention the field trips that the university organized for us,” he said. “We participated in many conferences and art exhibitions abroad. Every week we visited an archaeological area in Lebanon, which supported us a lot at our age, because we need care and attention.

Edward N. Arrington