By: Soha Bsat Boustani
BEQAA VALLEY – “Why [do] all beautiful things have an end?” said 8-year-old Chadi* at the end of a five-week summer camp for Syrian refugee children and marginalized Lebanese children. “I was so happy here; I played, learned and made so many friends.”
The camp, organized by UNICEF and the Lebanese nongovernmental organization IQRA’ Association, offered a safe place for these children to learn, play and receive psycho-social support.
HELPING VULNERABLE CHILDREN COPE
According to the psychologist Hiba Salem, Chadi—like most of the refugee children here—went through three major stages: First, shock from the violence he lived through; second, uncertainty; and finally, resettlement. Each of these stages left indelible wounds.
With an increasing number of refugees fleeing to the Beqaa Valley villages since the start of the crisis in Syria, UNICEF has accelerated its education-in-emergency response program. The camps offer assistance to Lebanese children, as well, as the areas hosting refugees are known to be among the poorest in the country.
The camp program ensures a favorable learning environment, reaching 570 children in ten public schools in the Beqaa Valley, Hermel and Tripoli.
“The summer camps aim at helping Syrian refugee children cope with normality after all their ordeals. For the Lebanese children living in the most marginalized areas, this presents an opportunity to reinforce their academic gaps and equip them with a better start in the new scholastic year,” said UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Annamaria Laurini.
SEEING A TRANSFORMATION
The classroom offers a peaceful place to read and engage in recreational activities. Students explain that they like reading, dancing and learning languages.
The summer camp has been especially good for those children affected by violence. When asked what they liked best, Louma* said, “Here, they don’t beat us nor shout at us. It was great fun to learn to resolve conflicts by talking, listening and discussing.”
French teacher Sana’ Srouji was proud of her students’ positive attitudes. “The summer camp allowed them to express themselves,” she said. “At the very beginning of the summer session, they were taciturn and shy without any confidence in themselves. They made an amazing progress, and some of those who were not able to read at all are now enjoying the French classes, can read and write, and greatly improved their faculty of expressing themselves.”
One Syrian mother spoke of her son’s transformation. “He lived a traumatizing experience when he left Syria, under the shelling. He was unable to sleep or eat for a week. While very reluctant to go to the summer camp at the beginning, he is today the first to arrive in the morning.”
IMPROVING ACCESS TO EDUCATION
“Parents have been instrumental in accompanying us through our journey,” said Rima Moussallam, President of IQRA’ Association. “Those that seemed very reluctant at the beginning became engaged and enthusiastic. We also witnessed a major change in teachers’ behavior.”
Nizar Ghanem, project evaluation consultant, said the children face three major obstacles: language barrier, discrimination and difficulty having parents send them to school. His evaluation showed that the camp has helped improvement on all three issues.