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Education and psychosocial support for Syrian refugee children

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The number one concern for many Syrian refugees in Lebanon is the education of their children. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to learning, from missing documents and certificates to poverty. With 9 out of 10 Syrians having fallen below the extreme poverty line in the wake of Lebanon’s economic crisis, many refugee parents rely on the earnings of their children. The EU supports activities that address education, psychosocial and protection concerns all at once.

Huge billboard posters with idyllic scenery of green open spaces and modern cities adorn the walls of Solaaf’s tent in a refugee settlement in Chaat, past Baalbeck. Alongside her mother and younger siblings, she cuts a stylish figure in her bright red headscarf and matching black and red jumper.

As a teenager, Solaaf struggled after moving with the family from Beirut to the Bekaa valley, leaving her friends behind. She used to sell tissue paper on the street, but the COVID-19 lockdown made it impossible to go out and bring home even meagre earnings. Life in Beirut had simply become too expensive.

Her mother Nasra, who is single, with health issues that prevent her from working, opted for a cheaper existence. “We used to pay 800,000 Lebanese pounds a year for rent. Now it is 300,000 a month,” she says.

Even if this is more than 4 times cheaper, she has not paid rent since last year. Apart from the EU-funded cash assistance, she has no income. Luckily, their landlord has been very understanding and lets them stay.

Altogether, leaving Beirut, COVID-19 and not having any money was really hard on 15-year-old Solaaf. Before arriving in the settlement, she did not know how to read or write very well.

Here, she got the opportunity to enrol in an education programme dubbed SHIELD. Funded by the EU and designed by the NGOs War Child and the Lebanese Organisation for Studies and Training, Solaaf and her 14-year-old brother Abdallah went back to learning.

“We target adolescents who are at high risk of early marriage, child labour or abuse,” says Ghada Tawbeh, War Child project coordinator. “Our SHIELD programme gives them the opportunity to receive schooling and psychosocial support. In this third phase of the project, we want to empower local partners to engage more adolescents in non-formal education, which is the pathway to formal education.”

COVID-19 presented a challenge. Distance learning modules via receiver and TV monitor, and one-on-one follow up and chat services were the answer.

Solaaf says the psychosocial support helped her to calm down and control her anger. 8 years after fleeing Raqqa, she never wants to go back to Syria. “I grew up here, I love it here in Lebanon,” she says.

In another nearby settlement, 13-year-old Hanadi uses the remote control to flip through the learning modules on TV. She is still recovering from being accidentally hit by a stray bullet during a clan fight 3 years ago.

It left her half paralysed, but Hanadi is a fighter. Even if some predicted she would be in a wheelchair for life, she has started to walk again with the help of physiotherapy and her younger sister Malak.

She also started talking again, with some difficulty. Her father explains that gradually, his daughter who had become reclusive and aggressive, has emerged thanks to counselling, learning and playing.

“In general, we believe that psychosocial support helps the children learn better. We also encourage them to be creative, by making things out of what they find in their surroundings, and to have fun again,” explains Ghada.

Hanadi has completed all education cycles, and thanks to psychosocial support and close follow-up, is again more optimistic about life.