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Building a community of support for refugees

Lebanon, Syria, September 12, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Seth Rue/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Volunteers participate in training activities like this to begin working with refugee kids in our Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward healing programs. Photo: Seth Rue/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Seth Rue/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Matt Streng leads a discussion with volunteers about Comfort for Kids, which uses workbooks, art and other creative activities to help children process their traumatic experiences. Photo: Seth Rue/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Seth Rue/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Program Manager Ghassan Wehbe introduces himself to kids who have recently fled Syria with their families. He enthusiasm and deep local connections have generated a lot of support for Mercy Corps' new work in the community. Photo: Seth Rue/Mercy Corps

We were excited to welcome our youth development expert Matt Streng to Lebanon for the first time last week. He'd arrived in Baalbeck, a new stronghold of Syrian refugees, to train the volunteer coaches and mentors for our Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward programs recently launched here.

With funding from UNICEF, these two signature Mercy Corps programs will bring support and healing to young Syrian refugees, their parents, and Lebanese hosts families, all affected by the escalating violence in Syria.

READ MORE: Latest updates on Mercy Corps' response to the Syrian refugee crisis

During the week, the enthusiastic volunteers learned how to show support to people after trauma, and how to act as mentors by encouraging healthy self-expression and openness. With the guidance of these adults, children between ages 5 and 9 will use workbooks, art and play therapy at Comfort for Kids sessions to process what they've been through; older youth (10-19) will participate in sports activities that build confidence and leadership in the wake of devastating events.

Through these interactive activities children and adolescents will learn to move past painful experiences to trust one another and support their own health and well-being.

For many of the volunteers, particularly women, this is the first time they've been empowered to play leadership roles in their communities. And they are eager to begin — the people here care deeply for their friends and peers, and would do anything to keep them safe in this new and turbulent environment.

The fact is, while Syrian refugees have fled war and chaos back home, life as a guest in Lebanon is still uncertain for most, often living with two or three families in a single room of an already struggling home.

Supporting both their new Lebanese hosts and their fellow Syrians is how these refugees may create their own future. Regardless of when and under what circumstances they may be able to return to Syria, they will have been actively engaged in reminding a beleaguered population of its own strength and resilience.

Now that Matt has left, it’s up to Ghassan Wehbe, our program manager, to lead the work in action. Already well-respected in the area, Webhe’s close connection to the community has helped him recruit some of the most eager and capable people to volunteer in the program.

I've seen Wehbe calm rooms of concerned parents and explain to them how their children will benefit from Mercy Corps’ healing program. He’s persuaded local organizations to donate time and space to the program. And he’s done it all with his gentle poise and unassuming voice. Wehbe’s ability to connect with anyone, from any neighborhood or nationality, will make him a strong mentor for both the volunteers and the kids in the months ahead.

One volunteer from the southwestern Syrian city of Zabadani, who’s been in Lebanon with her family now for four months, is now ready to help those around her heal. As she told me, “Under no circumstances can we just give up and stop living life!”

How You Can Help

Children are often the most vulnerable in the face of war or disaster. Your gift to our Syria Crisis Response will help us reach more kids who are suffering through the Syrian conflict. Donate today.