Awareness-raising initiative by youth in Homs protects children against abuse and harassment
UNICEF-supported volunteers teach children about their rights through interactive activities
Years of violence and displacement have left children in Syria more vulnerable than ever to the negative impacts of conflict, including being abused or having their rights neglected. In Homs, a team of young volunteers, with support from UNICEF, took upon themselves the social responsibility to help keep safe the children and raise their awareness and that of their families on child rights and protection from sexual abuse and harassment.
“My injury has motivated me to help and give hope to others,” says Ghadeer, 24, a UNICEF-supported volunteer, who lost both of his lower limbs in 2013 due to the violence and relies on prosthetics for movement. One year after his recovery, Ghadeer started volunteering with a friend to provide support to those injured and affected by conflict.
“Since my injury, I’ve had much appreciation for life and more energy for giving.” His passion for helping others and his belief of having a role to play in building an aware future generation motivated Ghadeer to support vulnerable children and young people by joining the group of young volunteers in Homs. “I’ve noticed the children’s engagement during the awareness-raising activities,” he says. “Most of them seem to receive the information well. With the very few who don’t, I’m able to break the ice and get their attention.”
“Parents are eager about educating their children on such important topics. That makes me proud of what we do.” Ghadeer is not only impacting the lives of children and caregivers through his work, but he himself is being influenced by their strength. He is determined to successfully finish his law studies at the university.
Also due to violence, 24-year-old Rawan’s injury caused her to lose her eyesight in 2013 but has given her more will for life and a drive for helping others. “I believe in spreading the rights culture and teaching children from a young age how to protect themselves,” she says. “Despite being visually-impaired, I’m determined to communicate with the children.” She takes advantage of her talent, playing the keyboard instrument, to keep the children engaged during the awareness activities.
“Children love learning that’s incorporated in play,” Rawan says. “That’s why we give them examples and narrate stories for them using entertaining activities and interactive games. It helps us overcome the sensitivity of some topics.”
“We’re empowering children and reaching out to caregivers to encourage both to speak up if children are faced with abuse or harassment,” says Zeina, 22, another UNICEF-support young volunteer in Homs. Like others in her team, Zeina passionately serves those impacted by the conflict, and she feels more responsible by the day towards helping her community. “When I first started going to the field with the team, I was surprised to see that in reality basic needs, such as protection, education or even vaccines, are a privilege for too many children,” she says. “Thus, awareness-raising helps spread the knowledge needed to combat many negative consequences of years of conflict.”
For 20-year old volunteer Abdelrahman, giving children information through activities they enjoy is crucial for ensuring its easily remembered. “I like the young volunteers. I feel comfortable asking them questions during the sessions, and enjoy the fun games they organize for us,” says Omar, 11, during an activity facilitated by Abdelrahman.
“One time during one of the team’s awareness-raising visits, a caregiver from the local community insisted on going door-to-door in his area to encourage families to send their children to attend our activities,” recalls Abdelrahman, highlighting the noticeable impact of the work he does with the team.
Thanks to generous funding from The U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), 32 young volunteers, comprising a diverse group of different ages, backgrounds and gender, were trained on properly communicating child rights education as well as protection from sexual abuse and harassment messaging to children in an informative and child-friendly manner. With generous support from Belgium, the team of youth covered five collective shelters in Homs city and eight villages in rural Homs, including AlHusun, AlQseir, Rableh, Dherege, Tal Kalakh, AlRastan, Talbiseh and AlGhento, reaching 2,700 children and adolescents and 500 caregivers with interactive activities and games on child rights and protection from sexual abuse and harassment awareness.