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At a glance: Lebanon

Child Friendly Spaces Restore Normalcy in Syrian Children’s Lives

By Amira Alameddine

HERMEL, Lebanon, 20 July 2012 – 13-year-old Hiba* has a determination rarely seen in a child of that age. “I want to go back home, I loved it back there in Syria,” she says. “For now, I want to do French classes here to be able to go to school. I have lost one year. I do not want to lose another one.”  Her classroom in Syria was destroyed by a bomb, an act she witnessed, but she remains strong and looks to the future.  “This is all I wish for - to go back to school.”

© UNICEF Video
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Spaces that restore normalcy for Syrian refugee children’s lives in Lebanon.  Watch in RealPlayer


In March, she fled Syria with their family and found shelter in Hermel, Lebanon. Her sister Salma was in her first university year and her brother Ahmad was in his last scholastic year. They all left their education behind to escape the violence ravaging their country. Now, as refugees in Lebanon, Salma stays at home, Ahmad works as a craftsman, and Hiba and her three younger siblings have found a safe place to enjoy their childhood again while preparing to go back to school.

Child Friendly Spaces, Space for safety and integration

The Hermel Public School is hosting the closing ceremony of the second Summer Camp, implemented by the local Association Culturelle d’ Hermel as part of its first UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Initiative in this rural area. Despite the fasting of Ramadan, the smiles and voices of parents watching their children perform on stage are animated. The event is marked by clapping, laughing, happy children and colorful children’s drawings displayed on the wall of the main school entrance.

“First, my children used to sit at home. They did not go anywhere. Then we heard about this center providing classes to children and a space for children to play. So they started going out, met new friends and started enjoying their days,” says Hiba’s mother. 

© UNICEF Lebanon/2012/Nabil Ismail
At the end of the closing ceremony, Hiba and members of her family look at the drawings she and her friends prepared during the Child Friendly Spaces Summer Camp in Hermel, Bekaa.

The Child Friendly Spaces are part of UNICEF’s commitment to providing psychosocial support to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon within the context of its Child Protection and Education emergency response. Exposure to violence, loss of or separation from family members and friends, and displacement can all significantly impact the psychological and social wellbeing and development of a child. These spaces provide a safe place for the Syrian children to go back to their routines - playing, studying, expressing their feelings, enjoying time with other peers - in an environment where they can feel safe, supported and protected and where they can integrate with their Lebanese peers.

“Through this project, we are supporting a center where children can go and do the things that any child does in his or her daily life and has the right to do in life,” says Isabella Castrogiovanni, Child Protection Specialist. Our commitment is to give these children a chance to regain their right to a safe childhood free from violence, discrimination and abuse.”

Psychosocial Support

“Most of the children in these situations develop symptoms of distress. We are trying to deal with that through social workers who work under the guidance of a trained psychologist,” says Amani Nassereddine, the project coordinator. “We had a refugee child who would run away each time he would see someone standing on a rooftop. He believed all people on rooftops are snipers. First he refused to come to the center but then progressively started developing a sense of his new reality.”

© UNICEF Lebanon/2012/Nabil Ismail
Lebanese and Syrian children curiously observing the progress of the show performed by their peers in the camp.

The Child Friendly Space implemented by the Association Culturelle d’Hermel is offering services to more than 500 Lebanese and Syrian children. “We noticed that when the children first came they were introverts and did not want to interact. This impression started changing bit by bit through the progress of the camp. At the end, many children are really happy and looking forward for more activities in this new community,” confirms Ramia Dandash, the social worker in charge of animation.

UNICEF supports a network of 16 child friendly spaces where children, from refugee and local communities, have access to a range of services, such as structured recreational opportunities, play groups, peer support services, and remedial classes. The realities of these refugee children reflect that a lot of work still needs to be done.   But these spaces are also serving as an entry point to work with parents and communities on children’s issues, to identify children with special vulnerabilities and refer them to the services they need.

*Name has been changed.



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