|A year after the start of the summer 2006 war, Lebanon is rebuilding, but children’s emotional scars remain, and ongoing instability makes their recovery more difficult.|
By Nicole Ireland
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 12 July 2007 – A year has passed since a 34-day war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel, plunging Lebanon into a sudden and intense humanitarian emergency.
According to government statistics, the conflict killed more than 1,100 people in Lebanon, injured more than 4,000 and forced 900,000 to flee their homes in the south of the country. An estimated one-third of those affected were children.
When the active fighting ended on 14 August 2006, people who had fled southern Lebanon rushed back home. Essential infrastructure, such as water systems and schools, had been heavily damaged or destroyed in many villages.
A sense of normalcy
Over the past year, UNICEF Lebanon and its partners have worked to alleviate the risks posed by 1 million unexploded cluster bombs and other munitions, which pose a particular threat to young children.
UNICEF has also helped local water authorities, contractors and non-governmental organizations rebuild 37 water supply systems benefiting more than 300,000 people in southern Lebanon. In addition, UNICEF has sought to help restore a sense of normalcy to children’s lives by supporting education and recreation programmes.
A year later, however, the emotional scars from the conflict remain. And children’s ability to fully recover and move forward is seriously compromised by ongoing political instability and security threats – including bombings and the Palestinian refugee camp crisis in the north.
|© UNICEF 2007/Toutounji|
|Christine, 13, is involved in a UNICEF-supported programme in southern Lebanon in which adolescents help younger children cope with stress.|
Children helping children
Christine, 13, lives in the Nabatiyeh area of southern Lebanon. “Although children are changing a lot, they are still afraid,” she said. “During the war, there was a lot of bombarding, a lot of heavy noises that were really frightening, so this is why I think they can’t take this out of their minds.”
At a special summer programme supported by UNICEF and run by partner NGO InterSOS, Christine and her peers come to a community centre in Nabatiyeh each morning to learn about a specific topic – anything from first aid to caring for the environment. Then they work in groups, developing interactive activities that will engage younger children in learning about the subject later in the day.
One recent morning, the day’s topic was child rights, and Christine’s group developed an art project to do with the children. Another group wrote a skit about the right to play, which the younger children would perform.
“They are very happy each time they learn something new,” Christine said, referring to the younger children. “We feel that they are keen every day to learn something new.”
|Children sit by a shrapnel-riddled wall during an interactive session run by youth volunteers at a school in southern Lebanon.|
‘A magical place’
That afternoon, Christine and the other youths travelled to a park in the nearby village of Ziftar to work with the local children, and it was clear that everyone enjoyed the activities.
After a while, the children gathered in a circle to share their drawings, skits and songs with one another. The enthusiasm of the adult facilitators, youths and children vibrated in the air. For a few hours, the sounds of singing, clapping and laughter transformed the park into a refuge from the memories of war.
“I’m from Beirut and I came here to spend in Ziftar my best summer vacation,” said Zahra, 12, another participant in the programme. “It’s really a magical place.”
As Lebanon continues to recover from last year’s war while coping with current instability, UNICEF’s support for community-based initiatives like this one is more important than ever. Promoting tolerance and peace between people of different religious and social backgrounds is a key to the country’s future stability – and the best place to start is with its children.
11 July 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli tracks progress and challenges facing children one year after the war between Hezbollah and Israel began. Nicole Ireland reported for this video from Lebanon.
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