20 January 2014

Making Damascus child-friendly

Fear and trauma is preventing many children in Syria from attending school. As the conflict enters its fourth year, what can be done now to ensure that they will not become a lost generation? It is a race against time – led by SOS Children’s Villages

Pledges of support from the international donor conference in Kuwait and the upcoming Geneva peace talks provide hope for a better future. But pledges alone cannot protect children- from the nightly winter chill that currently sweeps Damascus. Thankfully, SOS Children’s Villages has alleviated their suffering by providing 17,500 people – mostly children – with coats and blankets. The team has also recently provided other essential provisions to over 23,000 people in Aleppo and coastal areas of Syria.Despite the highly insecure environment, the SOS Children’s Villages team is making every effort to reach an additional 50,000 of the worst affected individuals across the troubled country.
 
SOS Children's Villages has opened the first official child-friendly space in Damascus
Caring for children - Distribution of coats and blankets in Damascus © W.Bachor
A critical concern
 
The majority of those affected are children of school going age. They live in families that struggle to come to terms with constant fear, bereavement, loss of livelihood and debilitating injuries. A high proportion has been exposed to scenes and extreme violence. Social workers at SOS Children’s Villages are gravely concerned for children such as Majed.

His family was forced to flee Rural Damascus last year. In the past, the six year-old excelled in school. But due to the conflict “his life has been turned upside down,” laments his father.  Even though the boy was fortunate to enrol in a school near the shelter for displaced people – which has become the family home – he has lost all interest in learning or making new friends.Seven year-old Nidal shares a similar experience. Until recently he was very aggressive, hyperactive and refused to attend school. What happened over recent weeks changed the boys’ behaviour dramatically.
 
SOS Children's Villages provides psycho-social services in Damascus
A small window of opportunity exists to prevent today's children becoming a lost generation © W.Bachour
The catalyst for children

At Dwella in central Damascus a group of trained volunteers from across the community manage a new initiative that has provided over 1,000 children and their parents with what is needed to regain a more positive outlook. “Coming to the centre has helped organise his life,” says Nidal’s mother. “He started waking up in the morning on his own and has returned to school. He is now doing his homework regularly and is happier as a result”.
 
The emotional well-being of children is the objective. Child care experts from SOSChildren’s Villages provide specialist training and ongoing support to the volunteers.  Storytelling, arts, crafts and playing in a safe child-friendly environment delivers desperately needed relief to children and parents alike. It also provides child psychologists from the SOS Children’s Villages team with a chance to identify and give individual counselling to those who need it most.
 
Preparations are underway to replicate the success of the SOS Child-Friendly Space in Dwella to other parts of Syria. The team is working in collaboration with partners such as the Syrian Trust to ensure this generation of children will not lose out on the psycho-social support and education that that is so vital to their wellbeing both in the short and long-term. All parties are aware that there is a small window of opportunity left to achieve this. It is a race against time to ensure tens and thousands of children can overcome the trauma and return to enjoy their right to education.