Making progress to comfort more Syrian kids

Lebanon, Syria

August 28, 2012

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    Mercy Corps staff  </span>
    Seth tries to get a laugh out of a child at a refugee camp where Mercy Corps is planning to implement Comfort for Kids activities. Photo: Mercy Corps staff

Yesterday held some big developments for Mercy Corps' new efforts to support Syrian refugees flooding into Lebanon. There are a lot of steps involved in expanding a new program to reach more people in need — from concept to budget to implementation — but just one day can yield a lot of progress.

While I am usually based at our headquarters in Portland, I've been in Lebanon for the past month helping the team start-up work to help kids who have fled Syria with their families. We're focused on the Bekaa, Lebanon’s vast eastern valley, rich in culture and history, verdant and beautiful; it boasts a climate more like Portland than Abu Dhabi and similarly fertile earth that produces world-renowned wine grapes. But it also happens to host more than 20,000 refugees who have arrived in steadily rising numbers over the last 17 months.

READ MORE: Latest updates on our response to the Syrian refugee crisis

Along with two very capable Lebanese organizations, we are working to alleviate, to whatever extent we can, the extreme trauma and distress that refugee children are experiencing. They have left their homes without any warning, often spending more than three days traveling through checkpoints and across mined border zones to a foreign country where they’re teased for their accents.

Our resident youth development expert, Matt Streng, will train 30 Syrian volunteers — teachers, coaches, counselors and parents — in our unique and time-tested programs: Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward. Comfort for Kids has helped children from New Orleans to Gaza to Haiti and Japan process their emotions and heal after conflicts and natural disasters. Moving Forward uses the therapeutic power of team athletics to move adolescents past interpersonal challenges resulting from traumatic experiences.

UNICEF thinks it’s pretty cool, too, and together, we’re trying to design an effective way to expand the activities and reach more children in more rural areas of the Bekaa. We think we’ve figured it out — their email yesterday said the proposal looked great and requested a meeting as soon as possible to talk about details. I'll share more once it's all finalized.

After that encouraging morning, I had lunch with Fadl Moukadem, from Mercy Corps emergency response team, and Carol Skowron, another Mercy Corps staffer who arrived last Thursday from Portland to lead our emergency response ramp-up. We spent a very productive two hours brainstorming the most effective and secure ways to get a foothold in the turbulent Tripoli area, along Lebanon’s northern coast. We hope to start supporting the basic needs of thousands of refugee and host families there who have, until now, gone with very little assistance from international organizations.
Finally, on the way to meet with UK's senior advisor for Syrian Response in Lebanon and Turkey, I enrolled in advanced Arabic classes to better communicate directly with those we are helping. The meeting, meanwhile, ranged from frustrating to inspiring — but I’m discovering that it is only from equal parts frustration and inspiration that real innovation emerges. The frustration forces creativity and the inspiration keeps that creativity focused squarely on the target.

Today, the target was making concrete steps toward bringing some real support — the kind of change that lasts, the kind that you remember — to a lot of people who really need it. I felt good as Carol and I trudged through 85-degree heat and 85-percent humidity back to our quarters for dinner — and four more hours in front of our laptops before bed. These are long days, but worth every minute.

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.