A commitment to Syria's children

Lebanon, Syria, March 12, 2014

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Andras Beszterczey/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Yazan, 4, was nervous and aggressive after fleeing the war in Syria with his family. Now in Lebanon, his mother tells us he is more emotionally stable and making new friends in our children's programs. Photo: Andras Beszterczey/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Andras Beszterczey/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Our Child Friendly Spaces in Lebanon give Syrian child refugees a safe place to participate in activities, like art and sports, that help them engage with their peers, heal from trauma and regain their childhoods. Photo: Andras Beszterczey/Mercy Corps

Yazan, 4, is like many Syrian children suffering the consequences of war. After the conflict forced his family to flee their home and take refuge in Lebanon, he became nervous and experienced frequent outbursts of aggression.

He is one of nearly one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon — almost half of whom are under the age of 18.

The majority of Syrian children in Lebanon live in solitude. Rising insecurity limits their mobility, and only 20 percent of them are able to attend school due to being targets of bullying and violence, differing school curriculums and the prohibitive cost of education.

These children have fled their homeland bearing the scars of war. Many exhibit severe stress and have difficulties facing the daily realities of displacement.

Play and creativity provide healing

With support from UNICEF, our children's programs provide isolated, vulnerable young people with opportunities to cope and engage with others — the opportunities they need to process their emotions, regain their childhoods and move forward from trauma.

Comfort for Kids is a three-month program that uses workbooks to help children process their emotions through writing and drawing. Born out of previous uses in Haiti and Libya, the activities are tailored to this particular situation and help kids identify what makes them feel safe, reminds them what sources of stability are available to them, and guides them in focusing on hopes and goals for their future.

Yazan completed the Comfort for Kids program in February, and his mother, Fatin, says the change she’s seen in him in such a short time is enormous: She describes him as an exuberant, warm and more emotionally-stable youngster who now engages with his peers and easily makes friends.

That connection with peers is a central to our Child Friendly Spaces, where Yazan also participated in activities that promote healthy self-expression and positive social interaction, like sports, art and cultural activities. The spaces also provide children with a place to feel safe despite the uncertainty they face.

Parents, too, struggle with how to help their children in such difficult circumstances. Yazan’s mother participates in parent support sessions, weekly meetings where our Psychosocial Assistants — who work on a daily basis with children — teach parents about children's reactions to trauma and the skills they need to help them heal.

In order to guarantee that the support for these children continues long term, we implement the program with Social Development Centers, the national network responsible for assisting youth and other marginalized populations get the support and resources they need.

Adolescents growing up too fast

We see improvements every day in the children we work with, but the challenges remain — especially making sure adolescent refugees don't fall through the cracks.

Due to the insecurity in the region, adolescent girls are often restricted to their homes. This could be a makeshift tent, an abandoned construction site or a room at a community mosque. They also have responsibilities in the home, like caring for younger siblings or elderly parents.

And prevailing poverty during an emergency often increases the frequency of child marriages —12 to 15 years is now the most common age for marriage of Syrian girls in Lebanon.

Adolescent boys face similar restraints that bar their participation in our youth support activities. Though their mobility is not as restricted, they are expected to work to help support their families. Boys as young as 12 are forced to take on daily labor for as little as $4-5 USD per day.

Overcoming fear and isolation

Reaching children and youth in this complex environment requires creativity, persistence and compromise.

To overcome the anxieties that children and their parents have about security, we also use mobile activities in which we travel to the homes and collective shelters where Syrians live, enabling us to work with kids in the safety of their home environment.

And our community outreach workers conduct home visits to build relationships with families who might otherwise hesitate to send their children to our support centers. With certain families, especially those with boys who need to work, we negotiate the participation of their children for as little as one afternoon a week.

The grim reality of this disaster is that the vast majority of Syrian children like Yazan remain without access to the support they need to heal — and they need our help.

How you can help

  • Your support is critical to ensuring this generation is not forgotten. A gift to our Syria Refugee Response helps more children get the resources and protection they need to survive this crisis and have hope for the future. Donate today ▸
  • Learn more about how we're protecting Syria's children. Read their stories ▸