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At a glance: Lebanon

Psychosocial support for children affected by conflict in south Lebanon

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
Boys play ping-pong at the first youth centre in Bent Jbail, southern Lebanon.

By Serene Assir

Six months after the 14 August 2006 agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, here is the second in a series of reports on its aftermath.

AL-KHIAM, Southern Lebanon, 13 February 2007 – Amid the ruins of one of south Lebanon’s more vibrant and well kept towns, children in Al-Khiam laughed as they played in the afternoon sun, almost oblivious to the agony they had suffered in recent months.

“During the summer war, my family thought it best at first to stay here,” said Mervat, 15. “But the war got worse and worse, and as we are so close to the border, my father decided to leave everything and travel north to Jbail.”

Mervat is just one of the estimated half million people who were displaced by the war between Israel and Hezbollah that ended six months ago. Many of the displaced youths barely had a normal childhood, having grown up in an area affected by conflict for decades.

Although the latest war has ended, the suffering lingers on. After the ceasefire in August, Mervat’s family and thousands of other Lebanese returned to their towns and villages, only to find their homes damaged or destroyed.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
The UNICEF-supported youth centre in Bent Jbail provides a space for boys and girls aged 12-18 to play games, use the Internet and listen to music.

‘A child deserves better’

“The children may seem like they’re all right now,” said Mohamed Dawi, a resident of Al-Khiam and father of three. “But deep inside, they are suffering. They are still, even the very young, glued to the television like their parents are, watching the news. Whenever a day passes without incident, they are surprised.”

Besides the insecurity, said Davi, endemic poverty and a lack of safe spaces for recreation in southern Lebanon have made it very difficult for the children to fully enjoy their childhood.

“A child deserves better, much better than this,” he said. “It makes me sad to witness a generation having to grow up in the same conditions of duress I experienced through my youth. I wish things could be better for them.”

Faced with the enormous challenges, UNICEF and its partners continue to help children and youth overcome their psychosocial difficulties. Establishment of normal routine is an essential step, and UNICEF played an integral role in ensuring that all children could return to school in October 2006, just two months after the war had ended.

UNICEF has also worked closely with non-governmental organizations to provide safe play spaces for children. The agency has supported the training of 600 coordinators who organized a variety of creative and recreational activities for the children.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
Zeinab, 12, was the first to enter the new Bent Jbail youth centre.

First youth centre in Bent Jbail

Recently, UNICEF has also partnered with the ‘Hoops Club’ – a youth recreation programme – to provide children in southern Lebanon with the opportunity to play basketball, football, handball and other sports. In the past two months alone, some 10,000 children and their mothers visited the Hoops Club facility in Tyre. 

Not long ago, youth in Bent Jbail, one of the hardest-hit areas in the conflict, got their very first youth centre. Supported by UNICEF, the centre provides a space where boys and girls aged 12-18 can play games, use the Internet and listen to music.

Besides having a good time at the centre, the children can also make friends and talk about their fears, anger and other emotions.

Zeinab, 12, was the first child to enter the Bent Jbail youth centre – an occasion proudly marked with her picture on the bulletin board. The war not only displaced her family but also damaged their home. Zeinab tries to come to the centre as often as she can in order to feel at ease.

“Here we find a place to express ourselves and pass our free time,” she said.



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