In Lebanon, we have been working with Lebanese NGO - Triumphant Mercy since 2014, providing quality education in a child friendly environment for nearly 300 Syrian refugee children. These children live in the informal refugee settlements of Bekaa Valley, who often struggle to access education and support.
The project started with four tent schools in the refugee camps in Bekaa Valley but in 2019 the children were brought together in one central building in Zahle, a nearby city. Students, together with trained refugee teachers, are driven in by bus from the camps to learn together in safe, colourful classrooms and have fun with friends in the large play space outside.
As with so many schools around the world, the Zahle school has been closed for much of the past year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Lebanon has also faced further crisis in recent months; economic collapse, political rioting, a devastating explosion in the capital of Beirut along with continual lockdowns. But our teachers have been incredibly resilient, working tirelessly to come up with solutions to ensure the children can still have access to learning back in the camps. On World Refugee Day, we take a look at what our refugee teachers have been doing to offer home learning and support to the refugee children we support in Lebanon.
MEET BAWK KAI MAI
Bawk Kai Mai is five years old and lives in Kachin State, Myanmar. She attends one of the Early Childhood Development Centres we support in the remote mountain camps near the border of China.
In Uganda, we support communities to create a protective environment for their children. Recently, we facilitated our annual 'Most Significant Change' exercise with the five slum communities we work with in Jinja, Uganda. People from each area gather to share their experiences and discuss which stories of change are the most significant to them over the year, and why. They then vote on which story they feel represents the most important kind of transformation for them as a community.
This is the fourth time we have used this technique in the Loco, Masese I, Masese II and Masese III and the second time it has been used in Wandago. Here are some highlights from the stories chosen by each community.
Namakusa Ruth - MASESE I
We're taking a look back to our history, and will be sharing memories from our early work in the 1990's and early 2000's as part of a #ThrowbackThursday series.
Rachel Bentley, our International Director describes a memory from 1999 that makes her smile:
Children on the Edge were part of the effort to help refugees from Kosovo residing in Albania during the Kosovan conflict. The people we were helping were spread out across difficult terrain, scattered across different temporary camps. It was summer and the temperature was in the high 30’s often reaching 40 degrees.
The issue all of the organisations were facing in the camps was sanitation. To prevent the spread of disease in such a setting, a solution needed to be found so that the refugees could wash themselves. They were living in remote locations with no water or facilities. Also, it was important to not spend a lot of money on building expensive infrastructure within these camps as it was likely in a few months the refugees would return home to Kosovo.
We came up with the idea of mobile shower and sanitation units. The company, Elliott helped us make these to specification, they were towed by land rovers and visited each camp every two days.
Money was not wasted on expensive infrastructure and these mobile units followed the people back to Kosovo where they were used in the village of Cabra that was completely destroyed during the war. They provided washing facilities for the community as they literally rebuilt their lives from scratch.
Our mobile shower units, providing hot showers (with on tap Body Shop shower gel!) became famous within the refugee population and many a tale was told of them long after the crisis.
It’s one of my favourite memories (and in 26 years I have a lot!) because it’s a great example of an innovative, bespoke solution to a specific problem, thinking outside of the box. As a smaller, more agile charity we were able to move fast and still rely on that skill in all of our projects today.
In May 2016, we organised our first ever playscheme in Loco; a community we had just begun to work with. The playscheme offered a week full of hope, life, colour and fun for the children of Loco and gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the community, especially the children.
We've just returned from our second successful playscheme this year, where we saw such a dramatic transformation compared to just one year ago. The most obvious physical transformation was our brand new Early Childhood Development Centre, which opened last year, and provided the bright and colourful space we needed for morning lessons. But the difference in the children was huge.
Read more about the transformation of this local community, all made possible thanks to your support.
Hosted by Children on the Edge Africa, with volunteers from The Body Shop At Home™, this year's playscheme was attended by over 300 excited children. They enjoyed a week of fun activities, from storytelling, football, three-legged races, drawings, crafts, music and parachute games. The highlight of the week for most of the children is the bouncy castle which was set up on Friday morning.
Every day involved structured educational classes for younger and older children in our ECD Centre in the morning, with the afternoon set aside for fun and games. Each day had a different focus: Monday was literacy; Tuesday was numeracy; Wednesday was the environment; Thursday was storytelling and Friday, well Friday, was bouncy castle day, with music, dancing and face painting!
Led by the ECD teachers and COTE Africa staff; with support from The Body Shop At Home™ volunteers, the children were taught counting songs; read story books; learnt about their local environment; made musical instruments and learnt about personal safety by identifying 'safe' and 'unsafe' places or objects in their local area. The 'Hungry Caterpillar' proved a very popular story for the younger children, with the older children enjoying 'Handa's Surprise'.
The week was a huge success. And for our The Body Shop At Home™ volunteers, Sophie, Hayley and Claire, the playscheme had a particularly powerful impact on them:
Sophie said "I want to say a massive thank you for allowing me to be part of a team who has made life changing experiences from day one not just for the children of Loco but also for myself. I was enabled to do activities I wouldn't normally do and really enjoyed myself, especially hearing the children laugh and seeing them smile. I never knew the full extent of what Children On The Edge do as we don't see behind the scenes but now I can explain to everyone I see with more passion in my heart to get the word out what you guys really do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart x".
Hayley said "What an experience being a volunteer for the 2017 playscheme! It pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to try things I wouldn't usually do. I've learnt so much in such a short space of time and have memories I will treasure for a lifetime. From the second we landed in Entebbe to the moment we stepped back into England I was enchanted by the people I've met, the places I've seen and the phenomenal work Children On The Edge continue to do. Thank you for a truly life changing experience!"
Claire said: "I've had such an amazing experience with a fantastic group of people. It was completely humbling and we met some wonderful people, both young and old, I didn't want to leave. Seeing what Children on the Edge has done for the communities in Uganda first hand has been a real eye opening experience, and makes you appreciate what you have at home a little more. From the results this fantastic charity have achieved so far, it definitely proves you get better results with honey than vinegar. I feel more informed about the work Children on the Edge do and more confident to advocate on their behalf now. Thank you for allowing me to share this amazing experience with you".
The Body Shop At Home™ volunteers who joined us this year are all consultants or Managers who fundraise tirelessly for Children on the Edge. Along with colleagues at The Body Shop™ and The Body Shop At Home™, they provide vital financial support for our work with vulnerable children, especially in Uganda.
Children on the Edge generate hope, life, colour and fun in the lives of some of the most vulnerable children across the world. Hope is a fundamental part of this because it enables people to know that things can be different. In turn, this is a catalyst for action within the communities where we work.
Living on the edges of society, surviving life in refugee camps and slums, enduring persecution or isolation are all situations that can breed despair and inertia. Sometimes when people see no evidence that things can change, they stop wasting energy believing their situation can be different. Rebecca Solnit describes hope as an axe, rather than a lottery ticket, and says ‘To hope is to give yourself a future, and that commitment to the future makes the present uninhabitable’.
In his 1930s ‘Treatise on Hope’, Ernst Bloch says that hope requires people to ‘throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong’. To us, this speaks very strongly of the importance of hope in sparking community ownership, participation and action. Hope gets people on their feet and inspires them to become actively involved in creating change, instead of resigning themselves to the difficult circumstances they are living through.
We have seen this scenario many times in the situations we work, and it’s why generating hope is one of the core elements we focus on. We encourage it through our relational approach, and it is the key to community ownership in our projects. Here are two examples:
In Lebanon, when our partners started working with Syrian refugees in the informal settlements in Bekaa Valley, many people they met had given up.
Project Director Nuna Matar described how “Often groups of people would be sitting around doing very little, they didn’t see what they could do to change anything. Big organisations would come and count people rather than talk to them, leave resources that they didn’t need, like electric heaters when they have no electricity. Refugees want to be known as people, not numbers! This doesn’t build hope, they started to sit there powerlessly, wondering what would be dropped off next”.
When our partners started to talk to people about education for their children, some of the men said ‘Are you going to build us a school?’, so the team put the question back to them. ‘Are you going to build a school?’. After a long time of believing nothing could change, they had lost motivation, but the team here built relationships with them, encouraged them and worked alongside them.
The fathers became instrumental in the construction of schools, and later on even the building of a new refugee camp. The women are fully involved in the education programme, many being trained as teachers and instigating their own literacy classes. The children have been engaged in designing the camp, they especially liked helping out with building the play area! We are now supporting the education of 500 Syrian refugee children, whose aspirations are rising, as are those of their community.
One year ago in Uganda, when we visited Loco slum the people there said they had no hope. Unemployment and income poverty here has left households vulnerable and their children are prone to exploitation, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse. The Chairman of our Child Protection Team (CPT) in Loco, said “People here have had many organisations come and start things and then go, promise things and then disappoint, they didn’t believe things could change”.
Using the CPT model means that work here is totally owned by the community. Babra is a social worker for COTE Africa, she describes how “ The community participate from the start. They identify the problems, they identify the solutions”.
Ten local people are trained up to work in their area as part of the CPT, to educate people about child protection and support them to create a protective environment. These people are volunteers, and all the work they do is out of dedication to their community. As the people they work with start to see that things can change, it encourages them to take more action.
A year on we have the full participation of local people, not only the CPT volunteers but also parents getting involved with education, mothers creating new businesses to pay for their children to go to school and local services engaging with the Loco community to create a better environment for children.
The Chairman now describes how “People see workshops, they see a team that deals with their problems, they see a drop in domestic violence and crime, they see their children on a playscheme and a new Early Childhood Development Centre being built, and it gives them hope. These things have never happened in Loco. Hope is knowing things can change”.
These are just two examples of how hope brings action in our work, but if you visited any one of our projects you would see the same values. Thank you for your support in generating hope and bringing change in the lives of children living on the edge.
Read our earlier blog: 'What do we mean when we talk about hope?'
When we say we bring hope, life, colour and fun to the lives of vulnerable children, it’s 'hope' that kicks off the list, and with good reason. Hope is the cornerstone of what we believe is vital for children living in desperate situations, because it’s all about change.
Hope could be seen as a fluffy, sentimental term; something to inspire a kind of 'sunshiny' feeling about helping children, but we think it’s the opposite.
Children that live in the situations where we are working don’t need something fluffy, they need something revolutionary. These are children facing war, persecution, poverty and injustice and in the current political climate, the need is not abating. Nationalism is on the rise, compassion is fatigued and barriers are growing.
In her book, ‘Hope in the Darkness’, Rebecca Solnit says that ‘Hope is an act of defiance… the alternative is surrender, which abandons not only the future, but the soul’. At present, our work with children living on the edges of their societies is more vital than ever, and it works in defiance of the status quo that marginalises children on the basis of their race, caste, class or ethnic minority.
In October an 65, 000 Rohingya refugees fled horrific human rights abuses in Myanmar, joining the masses of refugees already in Bangladesh, who have been fleeing government persecution for over a decade. It’s here we are providing education for 2,700 Rohingya children in a makeshift refugee camp.
Late last year, an 8 year old Dalit girl in Bihar State, India was beaten by a group of men when she dared to say that she could be a magistrate or the chief of police one day. It’s here that we are supporting education and non-violent activism to tackle ingrained caste discrimination and help ‘untouchable’ children realise their rights.
Currently, the practice of child sacrifice in Uganda is still going unreported and there are gaps in legislation enabling perpetrators to go free. It is here that we are working with a Ugandan child rights group, and the government to address the problem, whilst expanding our child protection teams in communities.
Hope is an act of defiance which often begins in the margins of society. Going forward we will highlight how it motivates action and inspires both rapid transformation and long term evolution.
Read our latest blog: 'How hope is a catalyst for action and ownership'