Tag Archive: Syria Crisis

Safe places to be children

By Edmond Lee

April 7 marks World Health Day. This year, the focus issue is depression, an illness characterised by persistent sadness which affects a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks or maintain healthy relationships. Many depressed people suffer feelings like worthlessness and guilt. In the most severe cases, depression can lead to self-harm and suicide.

Worst of all, depression can happen to anyone, including children.

Emergency situations can be a major source of mental health issues. The WHO estimates that 1 in 5 people are affected by depression and anxiety during humanitarian emergencies and ongoing conflicts. For children, the trauma of being displaced and witnessing terrible things can leave scars that last into adulthood.

Whenever World Vision responds to an emergency, we are ready with food, water and other essentials. But we also recognise that fulfilling a child’s physical needs isn’t the end all be all; it is not enough for a child to be well-fed if they are suffering mentally and emotionally.

That is why we are always ready to give these children a place to heal.

Escaping the trauma of war

Mosul
A World Vision staff member chats with a boy who was displaced by conflict near Mosul, Iraq. 

During the recent military operations in Mosul, Iraq, many fleeing children arrived at relief camps petrified, struggling to express themselves, and in some cases too terrified to speak. Years of brutal occupation and terrible violence had taken a toll on their mental health.

“Many children have been stuck in their homes while bombings, sniper fire, or chaos ruled around them. Others have witnessed the death of family members,” said Aaron Moore, World Vision’s programs manager in northern Iraq. “Our Child-Friendly Spaces provide a safe place for children to come to terms with the violence they’ve seen and just take time to play as children again,”

One little boy had seen his 15-year-old brother killed when they fled. When he came under World Vision’s care, he was too terrified to even speak.

“Thankfully, with the support of a trained World Vision psychologist, he was able to say his name by the end of the day. However, this is just the beginning of what could be years of specialist support, as children begin to rebuild their lives and regain a sense of normality.”

Many children don’t want to play when they first come to the camps. “However, after a few days at the Child-Friendly Space with our staff, they’re slowly beginning to regain confidence and a sense of hope for the future,” says Aaron.

Art therapy

One important coping mechanism for traumatised children is art.

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Faras, 11, remembers happier days in Syria. Now the happiest thing in his life is coming to the Child-Friendly Space, so he draws the bus he rides.

At a Child-Friendly Space in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Syrian refugee children use art to express a wide range of feelings. When Faras, 11, draws a picture of his past in Syria, he sketches an idyllic landscape with a smiling sun, a rushing river, and a green field where he and his brother once looked after sheep. Habib, 9, uses a black crayon to outline a helicopter dropping bombs.

That’s appropriate, says Bassima, the supervisor, who is also a Syrian refugee. “We have a past that is both beautiful and ugly.”

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Habib, 9, recalls a helicopter dropping bombs near his home. “The house is okay. The bombs exploded the neighbours’ house. I saw it; many were killed,”

Animators, the adults who lead activities for different age groups of refugee children, don’t ask them about their painful experiences and losses.

“We provide a peaceful place for them to feel their freedom. It’s a safe place for them to experience feelings and memories,” says Bassima.

Even as they help children come to terms with the past, the staff members attending to the children are also concerned for their present and future.  Huda, an animator, says “Every day there is something sad [the children hear] about relatives in Syria. They need support not to be overwhelmed by sadness.”

Ahmad, a classroom animator for a group of 10- to 12-year-olds, echoes this sentiment as he pantomimes raising an umbrella in a circle of 12 boys and girls. As they mimic his motions, he calls the Child-Friendly Space an “umbrella of comfort and safety over your head.” Indeed, this ‘umbrella’ may be the only thing stopping these children from being washed away by a flood of fear, anxiety and depression.

As for what lies ahead, “The future is very important to us, the future for these children,” says Huda. “If we create this peaceful place for them, we’ve done what we can do.” Indeed, for children of conflict, a little peace may be all they need.

If you would like to support Child-Friendly Spaces (and physical relief) for children in humanitarian emergencies, please make a contribution to our Emergency Relief Fund

The stories and pictures in this post were adapted from articles featured on the World Vision US website.

Raja – Volunteer Syrian Refugee Coach


Photos: Suzy Sainovski/World Vision

In November 2015, coaches from the English Premier League travelled to Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan to train thirty-six people from several humanitarian agencies, as well as a number of Syrian refugee volunteers, in how to coach football. The coaches are now using what they learnt on a regular basis to teach Syrian children football skills. Playing sport in the camp gives children the opportunity to stay active, have fun and make friends.

26-year old Raja is from Dar’a, Syria. She has a 2-year old daughter and a 3-year old son and has lived in Azraq refugee camp for two years. She has been a football coach in the camp for about two months and shares her thoughts on girls given the opportunity to play football.

I find it extremely beautiful that the girls are given a chance to play football! I used to enjoy playing football back in Syria. I liked football more than any other game as a girl. Here I enjoy teaching the girls. I feel like they are my children.

The girls come and play and release their energy. Some girls come to the multi-purpose sports pitch feeling sad and release their energy and feel better. The girls talk to me about their problems, they open up to me. I sometimes cry with them.

I will talk to parents who don’t want their girls to play and explain the importance of playing. I tell them that people and strangers can’t see into the girls’ pitch and sometimes after I talk to them they send their girls to play football. Many families in the camp are very conservative so it’s important for them that the girls have privacy when they play.

Amira – CFS worker


Ralph Baydoun/World Vision

World Vision runs child friendly spaces (CFS) for Syrian children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The spaces provide the opportunity for children to play, learn and spend time with other children. Psychosocial support activities help children process their feelings.

When asking Amira about the reason she works in a CFS, the simple answer that you expect is a typical, “because I love my work”. What one doesn’t know is that Amira finished law school, and had many opportunities to work as a lawyer  but she chose to work with World Vision instead.

Why? ones asks, “The smile of a child is worth everything in this world” Amira says. It’s probably her role as a mother that made her feel this strong attachment towards children and why she has dedicated her life to this cause, or as she describes herself, “I have a soft spot for children, all children”

Every morning Amira wakes up with high hopes about the day to come. Her challenge is to make a change in children’s lives especially the children who attend the CFS. “This is my motivation, this is what keeps me going.” Amira adds.

World Vision works in cycles when it comes to the CFS. Every cycle is for a duration of 3 months. Amira can’t help but talk about how unpleasant is to be attached to children for 3 months and then not see them ever again. “They become part of a bigger family”, Amira tearfully says. Even the children’s families come begging Amira and the team to keep their children for another cycle due to the significant progress they showed!

Amira who is a Lebanese woman in her 40s, lived and survived the Lebanese civil war herself. Seeing the refugees remind her of herself in an earlier stage of her life. She knows exactly how they feel and what they need, and tries as much as she can to help them through their pain. “Because I know for a fact the children are vulnerable and they are the most affected, when it comes to their hygiene, education and physical and mental growth!”

During the the interview Amira explains how beautiful her childhood was and what she tries to do is to ease the childhood of these refugees a little because she believes that every child should live their childhood to the fullest!

A day I will never forget

By Mona Daoud
Communications Officer
World Vision Lebanon

Saturday, July 25, 2015 is a day I will never forget. My family decided on a big gathering in a village in Northern Lebanon; a place we visit every summer. I told them that it might be difficult for me to join. They insisted on my presence. It turned out that they were preparing a small surprise to celebrate my birthday. I promised to join them at night as I had to work in the Bekaa Valley that morning.

In my line of work at World Vision, I interview Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Often, they tell me that they have no choice but to send their children to work, because they do not have enough food to eat. When I tried to get more details about the children’s circumstances, the families answered “Come and see for yourself”.

On July 25, at 10 A.M, I went to see the situation first hand. On my way there, I saw open-top trucks going back and forth, packed full of Syrian refugee children and adults standing with limbs hanging out the side of the truck.

Thank God I had another colleague who was able to lead the way and find the agricultural land where the children work, as it was located in a very isolated area. I started to feel scared.There were no road signs, no buildings, no houses. Only landmine warnings.

Our car stopped. My heart stopped.

Stepping out of the car on to the agricultural land where the children and mothers work took me back two years to when I tried to watch the film ‘12 Years a Slave.’ My attempt to watch it failed as I am a very sensitive person when it comes to witnessing extreme violations of human rights, especially when it comes to physical torture. I only managed to watch 15 minutes before I left the cinema, leaving my friends and husband inside.

I did not expect that two years later I would have to watch the same movie again, but in real life. This time, I could not walk away.

I walked robotically towards the land owner who was holding a stick hitting Syrian refugee children in the field.  I said “Good Morning, I am Mona from World Vision”. He replied “Welcome”. He ran to an 8-year old child wearing yellow; hit him with the stick on his back, once, twice, until he fell to the ground. Then, he approached the child and pulled him roughly by his ear until it turned as red as a tomato.  The child in yellow shouted “Mom”. He kneeled on the floor and cried, once, twice, until his mother came to him and said “Ibrahim honey, do not cry”. She spoke quietly. She could not even hug him. She is not allowed to leave work for more than 30 seconds; otherwise her child will be hit on the back.

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Ibrahim (in yellow), an 8-year old Syrian refugee, has to work for long hours in
a field in Lebanon, earning $6 (RM25.50) a day.
His family has no other choice to survive.

During those few minutes, while Ibrahim was crying, the land owner shared something with me. “You know, madame, dealing with sheep is much easier than dealing with these Syrian refugee children”. My ears were with this man. My eyes were on Ibrahim. My heart was nowhere. It was broken.

I needed my mind to stay alert so I could record all of the details that will help me tell the world about this violation of children’s rights. “Madame, why are you worried? This stick does not hurt. It only makes the child afraid so they work and produce more.”

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Thank God, it was time for the only 15-minute break of the whole day for the children and mothers working in the field. I used the opportunity to run to Ibrahim. Ibrahim was smiling. Like any innocent child I guess, Ibrahim could easily engage in happy moments. But, God only knows how he feels when he lays down to sleep at night.

Ibrahim’s face seemed okay, but his body didn’t. His backbones were visible and his back was hunched. His eyes looked down as though he’d committed a sin. I asked him to raise his head and know that he is a hero. His eyes fluttered. I asked him how he feels. He was too shy to speak. I managed to hold my tears and get my voice out. I told him: “Be sure that God will not leave you”.

I could say no more. I waved goodbye and left. I went to meet my family as I’d promised to do. I decided to keep my feelings on hold until Monday. But, even that failed.

When I arrived and saw my nephews, I experienced a very new and weird feeling. I hugged Mohamad, my 5-yeard old nephew, seeing Ibrahim in front of me. I hugged him for a long time. I turned to see Fouad, my 4-year old nephew running and laughing around the pool. I imagined Ibrahim playing instead of working in the field at the mercy of the stick. I ran to my room, put my face on the pillow, and could not stop crying.

Almost two months have passed since that day. The memory of my 27th birthday celebration has faded but the images of those children working in the field and being beaten by a stick are seared in my memory forever. Now I understand why so many families are risking their lives to flee to Europe.

Today, on 21 September, the International Day of Peace, I am calling on the world to help children like Ibrahim. I see him every time I look at my nephews. I imagine him saying: “My body cannot tolerate the stick anymore”. Peace is not only about ending the war. It is rooted in treating refugee children with dignity and humanity.

There are currently over 4 million Syrian refugees in countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, around half of those are children. World Vision has reached approximately 2 million refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable host community members with assistance including food, water, sanitation, health, child-friendly spaces and remedial education. In response to the needs of Syrian refugees in Europe, World Vision has started distributing baby kits and items for Syrian refugee mothers and their families currently living in camps in northern Serbia. Visit https://www.worldvision.com.my/syria-crisis to find out more.

Clean water and latrines make life livable for Syrian refugee families in Lebanon

by Sandy Maroun
World Vision Lebanon

The path to Aisha’s tent is filled with lots of mud and small rocks. The uneven ground is littered with old unused stuff, like chairs and broken appliances. Between tents, round white structured latrines and water tanks can be seen.

“Two months ago, we did not have all this,” says Aisha, 34-year-old Syrian refugee woman. “[The] children used to pee outside the tent, in a hole in the ground, and get their bodies dirty. Today, we have a latrine installed by World Vision and actually it is great,” she adds.

As part of the Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) project in the Bekaa valley, funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), World Vision installed latrines around Syrian refugee tents as part of informal tented settlements.

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Ibrahim (Aisha’s 5-year old son) happily opening the latrine’s door installed by World Vision in
Bekaa Valley

When the minimum standards for humanitarian assistance were set in 1997, it was established that there should be at least one toilet installed for every 25 persons. Yet, to have a better impact on Syrian refugees, World Vision installed one latrine for every 15 people. The organization also installed water tanks around the settlement allowing Syrian refugees to access clean portable water (the 1,000 litre tanks are filled by World Vision every 10 days) and greywater (filled as needed).

“We have everything we need [in terms of water and hygiene] now. It is definitely much better than before,” says Khalluf, Aisha’s 16-year-old son. “Water is reaching our tent through hoses [now]. Before World Vision, we used to fill water in buckets to get washed or clean our tents or throw it in the hole that contains our sewage,” he adds.

The potable water World Vision uses to fill the tanks is tested in specialized laboratories to make sure it has a healthy composition. As a secondary precaution, however, World Vision also distributed two water filters for each household.

“World Vision’s duty is to ensure the right environment for Syrian refugees, even though they live in tented settlements. These tents are the refugees’ homes now and through the WASH project we wanted to make it [as] comfortable [as possible],” says Simon Tawk, World Vision’s WASH project manager.

As part of the WASH project, World Vision dug a big hole in the ground, and installed a 200 litre hidden septic tank, connected to the latrines, to contain the sewage water. These tanks are emptied by specialized trucks monthly. The refugees pay the truck drivers to empty the septic tanks with vouchers distributed by World Vision.

“[The] WASH project provides Syrian refugees with the indispensable components of their lives, such as potable water to drink and prepare food, and greywater for toilets and showering,” says Simon, who also points out that by these efforts, “World Vision seeks to alleviate their suffering.”

Khalluf lives in the tent with his mother, Aisha, his father, Abdel Wahab, and his seven siblings. He’s the eldest child. Eight months ago, the family fled the war in Aleppo and found refuge in the Bekaa, where other relatives resorted before them.

“We can flush the toilet and we are doing well, much better than before. There is nothing like home, but our situation is better now,” says Khalluf.

World Vision raises refugees’ awareness on the importance of proper hygiene through information sessions given by health promoters in settlements, as part of the WASH project.

“We seek to help Syrian refugees adapt to their new lives and situations by raising their awareness on health and hygiene habits inside camps,” says Simon. “We know that they had great habits back home, but living in a tented settlement is different and our duty is to help them adapt.”

The WASH project in Zahle area in Bekaa reached 1,000 Syrian households thanks to World Vision and ECHO. So far, World Vision’s WASH project in Lebanon has benefited 24,500 Syrian refugees.

Please help meet the urgent needs of the Syrian refugees such as Aisha, Khalluf and Ibrahim today. To make a donation, go to www.worldvision.com.my > Donate Now > key in “Syria Crisis Response” at to rush emergency aid to. Thank you.