By Gavin White, IFRC and Kassem Chaalan, Lebanese Red Cross

“What I like the best in our project is training the children. In Lebanon, children love the Red Cross,” explained Farah Ezzeddine while standing in the main entrance of to Al-Jaafareya High School in Tyre, her bright red vest sharply contrasted with the grey uniforms of the teachers. Together with others, Farah started the Lebanese Red Cross school preparedness program in Tyre.

“In Tyre, we prepare children for three scenarios: earthquakes, fires and war,” added Farah. Following awareness sessions on earthquake preparedness, the Lebanese Red Cross emergency medical services team leads evacuation drills with the students.

Children seek safety under their desks during a school safety exercise in Tyr, southern Lebanon organized by Lebanese Red Cross. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

Children seek safety under their desks during a school safety exercise in Tyre, southern Lebanon organized by Lebanese Red Cross. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

As the teachers gather their students and account for any missing children, relief vehicles come driving in the yard and response teams rush up the floors to attend to the “injured” children in the simulation.

The school had a VIP turnout for this year’s annual exercise. As usual, the local civil protection brigades and Red Cross volunteers stepped into their roles, but also in attendance on this warm Wednesday morning were firefighting advisors from Austria and Malaysia, representatives from the German Red Cross and Palestinian Red Crescent Society, as well as the mayor of Tyre and the ambassador of Switzerland to Lebanon.

Rescuers safely lower a stretcher with an "injured" injured student from a window to the ground during a school safety exercise in Tyr, southern Lebanon. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

Rescuers safely lower a stretcher with an “injured” injured student from a window to the ground during a school safety exercise in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

Students, teachers and parents suddenly broke into a round of applause as the rescue teams carefully lowered a stretcher from a second-floor window to the ground. The student in the stretcher remained motionless as they carried him to the ambulance. This rescue team is the community emergency response team from the existing local ambulance service, trained and equipped by Lebanese Red Cross to serve their locality.

Rescuers carry "injured" students during a simulation exercise at a school in Tyr, southern Lebanon. The safety programme and exercise are organized by Lebanese Red Cross. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

Rescuers carry “injured” students during a simulation exercise at a school in Tyre, southern Lebanon. The safety programme and exercise are organized by Lebanese Red Cross. Photo: Gavin White / IFRC

The exercise continued as a responder lowered himself from the roof with a child in his arms. Several additional rounds of applause welcome the responders as they take on increasingly challenging tasks.

As the evacuations progress, the teachers who are part of the school emergency response team – recognizable in their yellow jerseys – continued their rounds, covering the heads of the smaller children as the warm sun breaks through the cloud cover.

Media interviews and group pictures wrapped up the day as the students filed back slowly to their classrooms, still excited by the drill. However, as the children disappeared, their parents seemed relieved that today was nothing more than a drill.