25 September 2015

Hope and hospitality for Syrian refugee children

SOS Children’s Villages runs centre in Lebanon to let children be children

Liliane, 10, from Syria, is staying at the SOS Children’s Villages emergency relief centre while her mother recovers from serious injuries sustained in a bomb blast. Photographer: Bjørn-Owe Holmberg

Where a group of children are playing in the courtyard of a building in Khonshara, Lebanon, their skipping and jumping show no sign of the trauma they experienced in the recent past.

These children at the emergency centre for Syrian refugee children, run by SOS Children’s Villages, are only a tiny drop in the sea of over 1.1 million registered refugees in Lebanon. But this tiny drop represents up to 30 children at a time receiving desperately needed care and protection.
 
They are children like 10-year-old Liliane*, who fled with her mother after a bomb fell on their house in Syria. Now her mother is somewhere in Beirut, sick and unable to take care of her.


A Syrian family of seven lives in a single room in a refugee camp in Beirut. 
Photographer: Bjørn-Owe Holmberg
“The children who we are helping are heavily traumatised. They have lost relatives, they have lived in the middle of a war, and some of them have been kidnapped, abused and taken advantage of,” said Ramzi Saliba, project coordinator of the Bhersaf centre in Khonshara.
 
Despite its own suffering as a result of the regional conflict surrounding it, Lebanon has been praised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its “exceptional hospitality” toward refugees. The country is hosting refugees totalling between 25% and 30% of its own population of 4.5 million people.
 
SOS Children’s Villages is helping to extend the hospitality. The organisation has been supporting children, young people and their families in Lebanon since the mid-1960s. Almost 300 children are currently living in SOS families in four locations, with another 1,281 benefiting from various other programmes. The dire situation of refugees and especially unaccompanied or separated refugee children has inspired SOS Children’s Villages to do even more.


SOS Children's Villages programmes in Lebanon include an Emergency Response Programme near Beirut
Since it opened in March 2014, the emergency centre near Beirut has temporarily taken care of more than 100 children. Emotional and social counselling and day-care have furthermore been provided to approximately 250 other children.
 
Up to 100 women, each with an average of five children, have been economically empowered through sewing classes and have received additional counselling. SOS Children’s Villages has also helped with the distribution of 600 food parcels and hygiene kits to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Khonshara and Beirut.
 
Mr Saliba said children react differently to war and fleeing. If they don’t receive help, they could easily become involved with illegal activities.
 
“We provide them with what they need to live a normal life without war, and we help those who suffer from trauma. They receive care, food, water, medical assistance, schooling and the opportunity to play and be normal again.
 
“We cannot give them back the life they had before the war started, but a life they at least know is safe. Our first preference is to integrate the children back with their families. This can take from one day up to a couple of months. If this is not possible, we try to find proper alternative care in foster homes or children's villages.”
 
After staying in the emergency centre for a while, even Liliane has allowed herself to dream about the future again. She wants to become an interior designer, she told workers at the centre. And one day she wants to go back to Syria, because she misses her home country terribly.
 
*The name of the girl has been changed.