Five-year-old Amani plays with blocks in a Child Friendly Space for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon. Photo by Ralph Baydoun, World Vision
Since recently arriving in Beirut, I have heard a lot said about the complexity of the conflict in Syria and the subsequent Syrian Refugee Crisis that has brought Syria and its neighbouring countries to breaking point. In the lead up to the 4 year mark of the Syria conflict, the number of number of people now affected is simply staggering – across the region more than 16 million Syrians are now in need of humanitarian assistance and more than six million children from Syria and neighbouring host communities are affected. The sheer size of the affected population makes me feel overwhelmed at times, and I begin to question what impact my work in the areas of education and addressing the psychosocial needs of Syrian children in Lebanon could really have.
Yesterday, with some of World Vision Lebanon’s hard working child protection and education staff, we battled winding roads, fog and snow to reach the village of Chebaa, right on the border between Syria and Israel. Only a few weeks earlier a Spanish UN peacekeeper was killed here by shelling between Israel and Hezbollah. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed across the border. It brings home the realities of the ongoing tensions in the region.
In such a tense and politically charged part of the world and following the worst winter storms in decades, I was not sure what to expect from our programs. My anticipation was short-lived. As we pulled up to the narrow laneway and I opened the car door, I was greeted by the heart-lifting sound of children singing and chanting the Arabic alphabet. I walked inside the World Vision run learning centre, to see colourful children’s art work and class rules adorning the walls.
Amidst an often harsh and chaotic environment, the learning centre provides a safe space for Syrian children to learn, draw, play and make friends. The pure joy on many of the children’s faces as they eagerly filled the colouring books World Vision had provided is something very special.
Each page depicts a different child right as per the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). As I chatted to the children I asked them what their favourite page was. The vast majority pointed to the page that read “the right to play”. That is what this place is for these children, a place where they have the opportunity to realise their right to play, as well as their right to learn and develop friendships under the supervision of trained and dedicated educators and animators.
At 12 noon, after a busy morning of catch up classes, play and group activities, World Vision provided buses to ensure the children can attend afternoon school shifts at the local public school.
These Syrian children don’t have much; they miss their friends, their homes and their country. But thanks to World Vision and the local municipality, they do have access to safe places where they can be children and be educated.
Sadly, for millions of other Syrian children in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, their right to play and education has been denied. The crisis may be complex and the numbers at times inconceivable, but World Vision remains committed to supporting these children to ensure the world does not forget and they do not become a lost generation.