Megan, front centre, with World Vision Lebanon early childhood development facilitators.
As a World Vision Early Childhood Development Advisor, Megan McGrath regularly travels across the globe supporting our teams as they work with the parents and caregivers of the world’s most vulnerable children. Recently her work took her to Lebanon where she met with Syrian refugees, who, despite living in the most desperate circumstances, remain committed to helping their children get off to the best possible start in life. Here she shares the difference supporters like you can make for children and families affected by the Syria Crisis.
It’s amazing just how much can change in the space of 24 hours and a couple of plane trips.
Within 24 hours I had travelled from the Australian summer to the cold winter experienced across the Middle East. One moment I had been on my family summer holiday at the beach and now I was in Lebanon to support and train the local World Vision Lebanon team to deliver an early childhood development project for Syrian parents and children living in southern Lebanon.
I am used to travelling – leaving my family for short periods of time to support our staff around the world – but this time I was feeling really homesick …
The sudden change in temperate also wasn’t helping, especially when I arrived at my accommodation – half way up Mount Lebanon – only to find the heating system had frozen over. My room was actually colder than the icy conditions outside! Not only that, but after 24 hours of plane travel, I had to take a freezing shower because the hot water had frozen over too.
My post on social media that day summed up how I was feeling …
“I’m freezing, tired and I miss my family. After travelling 24 hours I found my room has no working heating and no hot water. However, I need to try and put things in perspective as I prepare to meet with Syrian refugee families tomorrow, who are living in tents through another harsh winter, longing to be reunited with their homes and loved ones.”
On the ground in Lebanon
The following day I travelled to southern Lebanon, about 15km from the often volatile border shared with Israel. It is estimated that about 1.2 million Syrian refugees now live in Lebanon; largely living in makeshift camps or in small apartments amongst the Lebanese community. Due to heavy snow, I was not able to visit the camps as expected but instead went to a village where Syrian families were living in apartments. It was here that I quickly gained some perspective.
The apartments I visited were tiny, old and contained little to no furniture. Men were often idle at home as they are not allowed to legally work in Lebanon, and children and mothers were stuck inside for much of the day because of the lack of acceptance from the host community and lack of access to basic services. However, straight away I noticed that these tiny homes contained much warmth and love.
I visited one family which had opened up their home to host parent support groups, implemented by World Vision. The host mother and father were so welcoming, serving me traditional coffee and laughing about how they had nine red-haired children when they themselves had black hair. They joked about how all they wanted was a blonde-haired child like me! This couple was a joy to be around and an obvious support to the other young mothers who were attending the parenting groups.
The difference parenting support groups make
In these parenting support group sessions, caregivers have the opportunity to learn about how a child’s brain develops, learning that development occurs most rapidly in the first three years of life. Caregivers also learn play and communication activities to promote healthy development, as well as health and nutrition information to assist them in giving their children the best start to life, despite their circumstances. Thanks to World Vision supporters, children three years and above also now have the opportunity to attend high quality early learning centres, where teachers help them develop physical, social/emotional and cognitive skills in a warm, friendly, play-based environment.
When I asked the host father of this particular program what all this meant to the parents, he said, “Look around this room, what else of value do I have apart from my children? I now know what I can do to invest in my children to help them feel loved, supported and develop to the best of their ability. I want to help spread this message across the community, so fathers in particular know how important it is to care for their children.”
My post on social media that night again summed up how I was feeling:
“Parents everywhere want the same thing for their children. They want them to not only survive but thrive. In order to thrive, children need sensitive, responsive and nurturing care and protection from harm, and they need to play! The Syrian mothers (and father) I met today wanted to provide this kind of environment for their children, despite their circumstances. World Vision is empowering Syrian and Lebanese families, and helping children develop to their full potential through the provision of parenting support sessions, early learning centres and support for caregiver mental well-being.”
If you want to help children affected by the Syrian Crisis have the support they need to thrive, please give now!