The music danced around the room; the children’s feet bouncing to its beat. Everyone’s arms were in the air except for one little girl’s. She stood motionless as though she was unaware of the music and frivolity which was happening around her.
She seemed lost and detached from the experience. In normal circumstances you could think that she was daydreaming or displaying a lack of interest through boredom… but these children had just come from a war zone.
I was in Lebanon, at a Safe Space for refugees provided by War Child, a non-governmental organisation which provides assistance to children in areas experiencing conflict. Children here may have lost their hearing from constant shelling or be withdrawn as a consequence of living and fleeing from a war zone.
Seeing the little girl in her snug-fitting jacket and fleece boots, one of the entertainment staff walks over to her and starts clapping and moving his feet in front of her encouraging her to do the same. But she remains in her own little world.
No child’s life should be torn apart by war. After running a marathon to raise money for this amazing charity I was now in Lebanon to see first-hand how my money was helping these children.
This child friendly space at the UNHCR registration point is one of the projects provided by War Child, a charity which is close to my heart.
The 20 Safe Spaces that are provided in Lebanon are lifelines to children. In these Safe Spaces they are able to leave the trauma and terror of war behind them, by doing what children are meant to be doing – playing and having fun.
There are twelve refugee camps in Lebanon. Refugees are required to register once a year at registration points like these but they don’t just get registered here. As well as providing the Safe Space for children, War Child also hands out food and water to the families who patiently wait in the centre for sometimes hours at a time.
But their work isn’t just restricted to the registration points. They also support Home of Hope in Mount Lebanon which provides residential care for the most vulnerable children. Some of whom have parents in prison or have been abandoned. Children can stay here for months or even years.
Using a worldwide methodology called I DEAL, children and young people are encouraged to express their emotions and regain trust, answering questions such as, “who are you? Why are you alive?” The programme teaches them to believe in themselves again, make plans for the future, and put the violence behind them.
Some are displaced more than once, and there are high rates of depression. Some regret leaving, desiring to be able to return back home. For men there is no work, for the women there can be a lack of community. The children absorb the tension of their parents which is why this children’s play group is so necessary. It allows them the space needed to recover from their displacement experience and provides them with any additional help required for their psycuholosocial and emotional well-being. Even if they are not directly affected by violence, being displaced can affect a child’s psychology.
As the music continues, the children are handed wooden sticks and bang them together to the beat. I see a roomful of children smiling and having fun. And in that split second where they have just come from doesn’t seem to matter, for in this brief moment of time they are just children doing what children do, playing and having fun in a safe environment surrounded by people who care.