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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

School clubs provide normalcy for children affected by unrest in Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
During recreational activities at a summer school club in Daraa, Syria, Mariam, 8, smiles after winning a game of musical chairs.

By Razan Rashidi

DAMASCUS, Syria, 6 September 2011 – Civil unrest has disrupted normal life in Syria since mid-March, taking a serious emotional toll on children, in particular. Between witnessing violence and having their family lives and routines upended, children are paying a heavy price.

To give them a chance to recapture missed learning opportunities and ensure their psycho-social well-being, UNICEF and its partners – the Ministry of Education and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) – are supporting summer school clubs in affected areas.

The clubs were launched in August at five schools in the Daraa governorate: three in Daraa city, including a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school for Palestinian refugees; one in Jassem; and one in Harra.

‘Psycho-social first aid’

“When children are left alone without care, support or leisure activities during difficult times, they can feel isolated and more distressed,” said UNICEF Representative in Syria Sherazade Boualia, commenting on the need for the clubs.

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
Amani, 9, draws a picture of her parents during a summer school club drawing session in Daraa, Syria.

To staff the summer school clubs, UNICEF organized trainings on protection, psycho-social support, first aid and mental health for school directors, teachers, counsellors and SARC volunteers from affected areas such as Daraa, Latakia, Homs and Idlib. Provision of ‘psycho-social first aid’ through recreational and play activities is the clubs’ top priority.

More than 750 boys and girls have been attending the summer school clubs four days a week since they opened. Children between the ages of 5 and 12 are enjoying recreational and remedial activities.

“The children’s enthusiasm and relief in being with friends and getting needed attention is striking and deserving of a more sustainable support from all partners” said Ms. Boualia.

‘I love it here’

“I see cases where children are completely in shock,” noted Dina*, a SARC volunteer speaking to visitors at 7 Nisan school in Daraa city.

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
Raya, 7, paints trees during an art session at a summer school club in Daraa, Syria.

“They keep talking about what happened in their neighbourhoods,” she added. “I can see the progress of certain cases and how their participation level is getting higher day after day. I am glad to be part of these summer clubs. At least I can offer something to my community.”

Tuhama, 12, one of the club participants, witnessed the death of her 16-year-old cousin. She has joined the club in Al Orouba school, just a five-minute walk from her house in Daraa.

“I love it here,” said Tuhama. “We sing, we play, we are even doing sports. It is nicer than home. There, my mother is always shouting and giving me orders to tidy the living room.”

Security concerns

In this stressful time in Syria, community networks are also providing support and attention to vulnerable children and their families.

“In the beginning, my dad did not agree that I join the club, as he is always worried about my safety,” said Riham, an 11-year-old girl. “Then our neighbour talked to him and she was able to convince him. I am very happy.”

At 7 Nisan school, Hala, another SARC volunteer, paused while playing a game of musical chairs with her young charges. For a moment, she reflected on the security concerns still facing people here.

“I have connected with those children,” said Hala, “and every morning I worry that I will not be able to reach the school and meet them.”

All names of children and volunteers have been changed to protect their privacy.



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