‘Syria on my mind' offers hope to refugee children
BEIRUT: In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children have fled the violence that continues to ravage their country to this day and, with their families, have sought refuge in Lebanon and other neighboring countries. According to a UNICEF report published in August 2015, almost 800,000 Syrian children have flocked to Lebanon since the Syrian war started.
When asked where they come from, the majority of these children barely remember the place they fled, their home. Abil, a seven year-old Syrian refugee living with his family in Marshajoun camp in south Lebanon for almost three years, no longer retains any vivid memories of his house or of his homeland. In Saida, a major southern city, when these children are asked "where are you from" most of them respond "from Saida."
The project "Syria on my mind," was developed by the NGO Biladi (Arabic for my country) in a concerted effort to keep the memory of Syria alive in the mind of these children and reinvigorate a tie between them and their homeland. Through various activities such as storytelling, traditional dances, a culinary route on the Syrian map, and some games over the most important archaeological sites, the project--funded by UNICEF and run by the Italian NGO AVSI--helps children remember their homeland and their rich cultural and archaeological Syrian heritage.
"The project started in 2014. Once, I gave a piece of bread, called Tannour, a very traditional bread to a Syrian child. He came back to me, asking 'where is my grandmother' because he remembered how she was the one who used to bake this kind of bread back when he was still living in Syria. Right then and there it hit me that we may not be able to bring back their memories of Syria, but we can certainly try to give them back something that reminds them of their identity", said Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, a Lebanese archeologist and president of Biladi.
Around two hundred Syrian children aged between five and fifteen years participated in the educational activities within the centers run by AVSI in Nabatiyeh, Saida, Jounieh, Khiam and Marjeyoun.
Four days of workshops featuring moments of song, dance, drawing, gaming and discovery, were organized to allow children to overcome their pains and fears, in an effort to create a new and healthier connection with their Syrian culture.
Tarek Awwad, archaeologist and monitor for the NGO Syria Eyes told Annahar: "Some children have never seen Syria or they were too young when they fled the country. What we want to give them is a picture of Syria before the war. We want to make them understand its history and culture, so that they can have a greater responsibility and awareness for the future. To do it, we chose practical activities and games, such as building the ancient citadel of Aleppo or its castle".
The archaeologist, who is himself a refugee in Lebanon, said: "At first, when we opened the map of Syria or when we called out some cities like Palmyra or Raqqa, many children were frightened because they associated them with a risky situation. As the days passed, we tried to make them understand the beauties, the flowers and the animals of those regions".
The project allowed the children to regain a positive and non-bloody image of their homeland, as well as help them rediscover a lost dialogue with their parents.
"Because of the project 'Syria in my mind', several children returned to their parents singing songs they learned, or to ask them if they remembered the souk, and if they ever went there to shop around. It is indispensable that they start talking to their parents because it gives them the hope and the desire to go back", said a teacher from the educational center in Saida.
But the most important result is undoubtedly the discovery of their identity. Their monitors are Syrians; they speak their language, so that they feel valued and are no longer afraid to say where their homeland really is.
"Syria is a beautiful country rich in history and culture. It survived many wars and will survive to this one again. Everything has an end, but when something new will start, children must be able to know that they have to start rebuilding from what they knew about their country and not from something that someone is going to sell them as their new identity".