Last December, the Lebanese military entered one of the refugee camps where we were supporting work with Syrian refugee children. They ordered an evacuation, giving camp dwellers a week to take down their tents and leave. They did this in many camps along the sightline of the Lebanese Syrian border-point because of a potential terrorist presence. This meant there was no alternative camp for refugees to move to in the area, so we supported our partners to find new land and build their own camp for refugees.
During this eviction period, as families were trying to come up with plans for where to move, our local partners took all the children that were being evicted on a field trip. They thought it would do them good to be distracted, especially as they sensed many of them were feeling anxious about the military returning. When the military showed up the first time they intentionally intimidated the Syrians: they came in their full attire, brought their tanks and weapons, and threatened to run over the tents with their tanks if the Syrians weren’t gone in a week.
Our partners gathered the children and took them to land owned by a local convent, which has some beautiful grounds. Here they could run around, wade in the lake, and enjoy the fall leaves and vineyards. The trip was incredibly successful and the children were talking about it for weeks after, showing their parents photos, with their minds distracted from their current situation.
They also used the trip to start conversations about how, together, they could shape their future home so that it has some of the beautiful elements of the gardens they visited. It was a great opportunity to talk to them about the power they have to care for their environment, cultivate it, and enjoy it. They also to discussed how their choices make a difference, how even small, simple things can have big impact. This could be avoiding littering, or starting a small garden next to their tents.
When the new camp began to be built, teachers and students were encouraged to be a part of the moving process: brainstorming ideas and dreams for the future plot of land, involving the adults and older children in the building. One teacher described how “I really like that we teach the children to make conclusions instead of pointing everything out to them.” The conclusions the children reached about the new camp, was that they would love some gardens, they wanted a clean, safe area and most of all, a playground!
A year later and all this is a reality. The new camp is the only settlement in the area with tents spaced strategically to allow access for services. Other camps tend to end up as a maze like sprawl of tents , there is electricity for light and safety and all the residents are part of a cooperative where they influence the running of the day to day life.
Nuna Matar, who heads up the work in the camp says of the new playground “The children are using it to the full! For the children, having their own space where adults have no business being in has proven to be very beneficial”. Alongside the provision of education in the camp, creating a child friendly environment with colour and play as a central part of life is crucial for children who have experienced trauma to gain a sense of security and normalcy.
You can support this work over Christmas by giving to our Season of Hope Appeal or perhaps in the new year take on a fundraising challenge!