“My incentive for having started the Hariri Foundation was grounded in the belief that universities and institutions of higher learning in Lebanon admit students with hidden talents and skills. And since human talent is the wealth of the country, I feel that the best way to build Lebanon is through man’s educational and cultural development and the realization of his hidden talents”
– The late Lebanese Premier Rafic Hariri.
World War II was still raging in 1944 when the son of a low-income farmer was born in Sidon, Lebanon. In his teenage years, he roamed Sidon’s streets and famous fishing and trading port determined to rid himself of economic deprivation. The lapping shores of the Mediterranean immersed him in dreams of social mobility. Unable to afford tuition and complete his studies at the Beirut Arab University, he borrowed money from a friend and moved to Saudi Arabia in 1965 in search of a better life. Unbeknownst to Rafic Hariri at the time, his own struggles to get educated would later turn him into a world-renowned education philanthropist. “Hariri Foundation was an idea Hariri had, one of many that resulted out of his suffering to get an education. His family’s name is known and respected but it came from a poor background with limited means,” said Mustapha Zaatari, the foundation’s Director General and personal friend of the late Hariri.
What is a man’s true wealth if it isn’t measured by the good that he does? Heading five governments and presiding over the physical and economic reconstruction of a war-torn Lebanon did not prevent Hariri from overseeing an even greater endeavor, at least in the eyes of thousands who benefited from his patronage. “The Hariri Foundation loan facilitation program allowed more than 32,000 students to study in the best universities in Lebanon and abroad. Perhaps in every Lebanese family there is one individual who has been taught at Hariri’s expense,” said Fatima Rashidi, head of pedagogy and teaching at the Hariri Foundation. The program has raised more than 4000 engineers and 1500 doctors, people who would otherwise have likely remained without a proper education. In 1979 it was called ‘The Islamic Institute for Culture and Higher Education’ and run by Hariri’s sister, current Member of Parliament Bahiya Hariri, but the Hariri Foundation has carried its present name since 1984 when it moved to its central offices in Beirut. At its peak loan-granting activity, the foundation opened offices indifferent parts of the country to facilitate the transactions.
Zaatari who had a long history with UNESCO joined the foundation in February 1986. The foundation had a large number of students and it needed organization, so Zaatari, an educator and administrator, had to institute new laws, rules and regulations. “Our acceptance criterion for the students was based on their school performance and we gave those who needed help in the French or English language a preparatory year before going to college,” Zaatari said. Students secured loans that covered all or most of their tuition fees, housing accommodation, transportation, meals and books. When the situation in Lebanon stabilized in1992 and the economy improved, the foundation slowed down its sponsorship programs until it stopped it completely in 1995. “The fact that we had a functioning Lebanese University helped us make that decision but we kept supporting those who were studying abroad through our offices in Washington, Paris and London which we still maintain to keep in close contact with our student protégés who had joined around a hundred universities in Western Europe, North Africa, Canada and the US,” Zaatari said. Rashidi added another factor: “The Foundation tried to bring back some of the students that studied abroad and some did, but because of the socio-economic situation in Lebanon, many stayed abroad. This is partly why the program stopped,” Rashidi said. It is believed that a large number (if any) of the beneficiaries did not pay back their loans to the foundation and neither did the foundation make a concerted effort to recoup its investment. Although it abandoned its national program, the foundation still sponsors a select few high achievers from its school network to study abroad.
Rashidi said there were two parts to the philosophy of the Hariri Foundation with the first being to rescue the Lebanese youth from bearing arms and joining a bloody civil war which in 1979 was recruiting disillusioned youth. “Many young people didn’t have cash flow and thought at the time they could make money carrying weapons but the foundation gave them an opportunity to study in their country or abroad,” Rashidi said. Hariri’s idea, Rashidi added, was to create a snowball effect where a person learns and supports his family and then his/her own kids would in turn do the supporting.
The second part was to preserve heritage schools and establish educational institutions. Lycee Abdul Kadir was founded at the heart of the capital by the Mission Laïque Francaise at the turn of the 20th century and today accommodates 1200students in a K-12 program. The National Evangelical School for Boys and Girls just across the street had an equally culturally rich background and could take 1,300 students through all grades. They were both on the selling blocks in 1984 to make room for a large retail development. “When Hariri caught wind of this, he put out the highest bid for both schools and began by asking the foundation to agree with the French mission to share in the management of the Lycee,” Rashidi said. Today, Hariri Foundation has eight board members sharing the decision-making with four from the French mission. As for the Evangelical School, it was turned over to the foundation and was renamed Hariri II. Whereas at one point in 1989 both schools were 100% subsidized by the foundation, Rashidi said that she fought with the administration to involve the parents and make them participate in their kids’ education. “They agreed and the tuition fees that parents now pay cover only the school operating costs. The foundation backs the construction, renovation and every investment that needs financing, and the foundation has invested a lot in renovating and modernizing the once-aging facilities,” Rashidi said.
Rashidi is responsible for both those schools and another in the Chatila slums in Tareek Al Jadidah called Hariri III, which the late premier established in 1997 (see The Middle East Educator, issue 2). “At Hariri III, the Prime Minister said he wanted a school with the best education in the poorest area. This was his goal. He was even thinking of having it tuition-free,” Rashidi said. Here again, Rashidi and Zaatari were adamant that parents’ participation was necessary, because once they partner in their kids’ education parents will participate in it and so the foundation now subsidizes about 2/3 of the tuition fees with low-income families paying the remaining balance. Hariri also built Rafic Hariri High School in Sidon in 1985 and equipped it with elaborate laboratories, athletic facilities, playgrounds, courts and classrooms and today hosts 2000 students. In 1996, the foundation built Hajj Baha’ Eddin Hariri elementary School in Sidon offering free tuition to the poor and presented it to the Makassed Islamic charity organization.
In 1986, when the budget for the foundation was running at $95 million yearly, Hariri still made a pledge to the Lebanese university to supply it with buildings to create the University Institute of Technology, which opened its doors to students in October 1997. “He had dreamed of creating his own university and stayed on the subject until he fulfilled the dream in 1999 with the Hariri Canadian Academy of Sciences and Technology which he opened in Mechref,” Zaatari said. The idea of creating a university was, according to Zaatari, really about creating vocational institutes to secure a middle class. Japan, Germany and Canada were the top three countries in vocational training at the time. “The foundation members were not encouraged by Germany because that country’s delegation was not excited about the project. I saw the Canadian ambassador and he was excited. There was logistical collaboration from the Canadians, in terms of curriculum support and sending experts for a year to back the teachers,” Zaatari said. Extensions to the university are now planned in areas of the Bekaa and the North with specializations according to these areas’ needs.
The foundation champions education in all its learning institutions, not only through varied forms of tuition subsidies, but also through offering quality education and hope of a better future. “Hariri was resolute in furnishing all the foundation’s schools with the best there is in terms of classroom environments, extra-curricular activities, arts facilities, computer labs, libraries and educational space to maximize the learning process. This is very evident,” Rashidi said. Every school also has a team of psychologists and counselors to deal with special needs children and those troubled by events on and off campus, especially those dealing with domestic issues involving divorce, violence or otherwise.
But perhaps even more exciting is the directorate for professional guidance. The Hariri Foundation originally established the ‘Career Guidance Center’ in 1985 in collaboration with AUB to offer career counseling services to Hariri students enrolled in the English Program at AUB. “Currently from the 10th grade on, any student from a private or public school can come for free orientation or career guidance session with our counselors,” Rashidi said. These students will receive help discovering the different aspects of their personalities and channeling their interests, skills, work values and abilities into an appropriate selection process of what to major in at the university level or what vocational institutes to join as well as what potential careers to choose. One of the important activities prepared by the Career Guidance Department is the Career Fair, an annual activity in participation with universities licensed by the Lebanese Government as well as some higher technical vocational institutions at the TS (Technician Superior) level and a number of hiring institutions.
The foundation’s mission has transformed in form but not in principle. Hariri’s assassination on February 14th 2005 did not lessen the foundation’s drive to support the working class and educate their children. Funding has continued to subsidize tuition and send overachievers abroad as well as to maintain the high standards of education at all levels. “We are in constant negotiations to acquire real estate and build more schools in other deprived areas of Lebanon such as in Akkar. Hariri’s son Saad is taking over his father’s legacy especially when it comes to education. The foundation is here to stay,” Zaatari said.
Early Educational Charity Work for the Late Premier
While the Hariri Foundation is what people remember most of the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri’s educational interests, little is known about his early involvement in the field. Mustapha Zaatari, the foundation’s Director General experienced first hand the man’s altruism when Hariri was still a relative unknown on Lebanon’s political scene. “The first time I heard of Rafic Hariri was in 1977 while attending a graduating ceremony in Al Makassed School in Sidon, when an organizer announced that one of Sidon’s own was pledging 300,000 Lebanese Pounds (about $150,000 at the time) to start rebuilding his own school which was destroyed by an earthquake,” Zaatari said. The two later met at Beirut’s International airport and engaged in a casual conversation which set the course of their future association. In 1979, Hariri’s sister Bahiya Hariri called Zaatari and asked him to become part of the Kfar Falous center project which the former Premier founded and called the ‘Sidon Institute for University Studies’. The institute is run by the administration of Saint Joseph University and consists of a college of food technology and nutrition engineering in addition to other higher technical specializations. The center was to contain a high school, a school for training nurses and a big hospital, but the 1982 Israeli invasion disrupted all activities and destroyed all furniture and equipment. As a member of that team, Zaatari met Hariri on a related work detail in 1981. “Hariri came to Sidon and I asked to see him (he gave me an appointment at 10:30 pm!). He asked for my opinion on the Saint Joseph project and I was candid and critical about it. He replied that no one had ever been that honest with him before,” Zaatari said.
On the next occasion the two met, the relationship developed further. “He was behind the wheel driving us from Sidon to Beirut. I said I needed his help raising LP10 million for a project for the Islamic charity organization Maqassed to show people that there is renewal in the south and the project was to buy a land in Majdelioun and build a school there,” Zaatari said. In fact, LP5 million were needed to cover debt and the other five were for the project’s cost. “You cannot talk about the foundation without knowing the kind of man Hariri was and his attention for educational matters,” Zaatari said. Hariri promised he would take care of the debt and that he would buy a piece of land but only in the Kfar Falous area where he was building the center. After Zaatari refused Hariri said “Look, think about it, I will build you a compound for Maqassed and I will cover the organization’s entire debt”. One month later, Hariri called Zaatari and the two met with Bahaa’ Bsat, then president of the Maqassed association to further negotiate building a school in Kfar Falous in return for another in Majdelioun. “However by August 1982, I went to Paris and joined Hariri at his house. He had abandoned the idea of Kfar Falous. Then he purchased a 65,000 m2 piece a land, built a center which housed Husam Eddin Hariri High School and donated it to the charity organization,” Zaatari said. Hariri later exempted the association from paying its collective debt of $35 million which it owed to his financial institution Banque de la Mediterrannee. Mustapha Zaatari, Hariri Foundation’s General Director.