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At a glance: Lebanon

Helping children heal the scars of war in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley

UNICEF Image: Lebanon: Helping children heal the scars of war
© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
Group games were part of the fun for 150 children attending the Activity Fair organized by youth volunteers in Lebanon's Beqaa Valley on 7 October.

By Nicole Ireland

KHERBET KANAFAR, Lebanon, 12 October 2006 – The sun shone on smiling, painted faces last week at an activity fair for children in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

The day of fun, games and music on 7 October marked the completion of a special week-long training camp for young volunteers wanting to make a difference for children affected by the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Before the 14 August ceasefire halted that conflict, the sound of bombing echoed against the mountains in this idyllic region. When the fighting stopped, UNICEF child protection workers and local agency partners responded quickly to requests from families and communities throughout the Beqaa region who sought recreational initiatives for their children.

They hoped such activities would mark a clear transition out of the days of conflict and back to a normal life.

Imaginative play

“The fact that the war has ended does not mean that normalcy has returned to children’s lives,” cautions UNICEF Lebanon psychosocial support consultant Maha Damaj. “Children who have been exposed to frightening situations like war continue to deal with various emotional issues long after the conflict has ended.

“Restoring the elements of children’s normal lives is critical to their recovery, and imaginative play is one of the most natural of these elements.”

UNICEF Image: Lebanon: Helping children heal the scars of war
© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
A boy participates in the UNICEF-supported Beqaa Valley Activity Fair for children affected by the recent conflict in Lebanon.

Sixty youth volunteers travelled from villages throughout the Beqaa Valley to participate in the week of training, which was supported by UNICEF, a local non-governmental organization known as the SAWA Group and another partner, Right to Play.

The sessions taught volunteers how to work with children affected by conflict or crisis. The trainees’ final task was to practice their skills by organizing and running the activity fair for 150 children from the region.

Far-reaching effects

Volunteer Assala El-Jawhary participated in the training because the children in her village, Hermel, badly need child-friendly programmes. “I’ve learned lots of things about how to communicate with kids who have been touched by war and how to be an activator of a group,” she says.

At the Activity Fair, Assala held the rapt attention of a circle of children as she led them in song. She notes that there are many ways to engage children, including playing, singing, drawing and talking. When Assala returns to Hermel, she plans to apply what she has learned and start up similar activities there.

Because of volunteers like Assala, the positive effects of the activity fair will reach far beyond a single day. UNICEF and its partners will continue to provide supplies – including equipment for arts and sports activities – as well as technical expertise, as these enthusiastic young adults go back to their respective villages and implement community-based projects for children.

Their efforts will be rewarded with reactions like that of 12-year-old Sari, who not so long ago woke up in the night, frightened by the sound of bombs hitting a nearby bridge and building. Despite what she has been through, her butterfly-painted face breaks out in a shy smile as she responds to a question about why she is at the fair. Her answer is simple: “To play.”




11 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the youth-led Activity Fair to help the children of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
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