Children find a safe space to learn in conflict-torn Homs
UNICEF’s Regional Director visits displaced children and their families
By Iman Morooka
HOMS, Syria, 24 March 2013 – The battered city of Homs has suffered some of the heaviest and most relentless fighting in the Syrian conflict. Many neighborhoods have been damaged or destroyed, leaving at least 600,000 out of Homs’s 1.7 million residents in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and OCHA.
Given the continued violence and increased displacement here, this number is expected to be much higher.
Maria Calivis, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, visited Homs last week and met with affected families, seeing first-hand the devastation the conflict has inflicted on residents, and the growing humanitarian needs. Ms Calivis also met with UNICEF partners and staff on the ground to discuss ways to strengthen UNICEF’s humanitarian response and partnerships for the benefit of children in need. “Two years into the crisis, essential services have been severely disrupted,” Ms Calivis said. “Buildings and neighbourhoods have been damaged, some reduced to rubble, forcing people to flee their homes and livelihoods.
Some families have had to move four or five times seeking safety.”
In an unfinished housing complex in Al-Wa’ar neighbourhood, where many displaced families from other locations in Homs have taken shelter, Ms Calivis observed UNICEF-supported remedial classes. These makeshift classrooms are the only form of education available for displaced children in the neighbourhood.
“Providing children a safe space to learn, play, and overcome the trauma they have witnessed – even if for a short while – is crucial, for both children and their parents,” said Ms Calivis. “If education is not prioritized by the international community, Syria’s children – particularly girls – risk becoming a ‘lost generation’, with enormous long-term consequences for the country’s future,” she warned. Ms Calivis expressed serious concerns about UNICEF’s low levels of funding, which currently stands at only 20 per cent. “I was impressed to see how UNICEF and its partners are making an impact and helping children get by,” she said. “But I’m really worried that given our funding shortfall, we will have to stop a number of life-saving activities.”