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One Day: Syrian children have a safe space to play

How Trócaire is giving Syrian children a place where they can just be children

Maya (11) in the playground of the 'Safe Haven' centre. Photo: Simon Walsh Maya (11) in the playground of the 'Safe Haven' centre. Photo: Simon Walsh

Maya (11) and her family “lived a good life” at home in Syria before their world was suddenly torn apart by the outbreak of the civil war in 2011.

As the conflict escalated, Maya and her family fled the war and sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, which is estimated to host more than 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the conflict since 2011.

For more than a decade, Maya and her family have been living in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon and have endured a life of fear, poverty and uncertainty. The war still continues in Syria, and it’s not clear if they’ll ever be able to return to the place they called home.

“After the war began, my life turned upside down,” says Maya’s father Hassan. “Something stopped. We went from good to horrible.”

Syrian refugees struggling to survive in camps

Maya and her family are just one of the thousands of families in Lebanese refugee camps who are struggling to survive. More than 12 years into the Syria conflict, Lebanon remains at the forefront of one of the worst humanitarian crises. The Syrian refugee population in Lebanon remains one of the largest concentrations of refugees per capita in the world.

Adding to the humanitarian context, Lebanon is undergoing a series of overlapping crises on the political, economic, and social front, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to this, the capital Beirut and the country are still recovering from the effects of the devastating blast in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020.

More than half of all Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in extreme poverty and over three quarters live below the poverty line. Life for these refugees is extremely challenging, and as a result many consider taking the dangerous and risky option of being smuggled on a boat across the Mediterranean towards a new life in Europe.

Maya enjoys doing art activities with her sister Amira (11), and brother Farid (13) at the ‘Safe Haven Centre’ provided by Trócaire’s partner SAWA. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire. Maya enjoys doing art activities with her sister Amira (11), and brother Farid (13) at the ‘Safe Haven Centre’ provided by Trócaire’s partner SAWA. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire.

Play areas helping children to enjoy their childhoods

In Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, Trócaire along with local partner SAWA is providing a space where children can be children again.

Close to Maya’s home is the “Safe Haven” centre which provides support to Syrian refugee families, including relief and food, education, psychological support and vocational training.

The centre is surrounded by informal refugee camps, with long rows of tents and more permanent structures. It feels like a breath of fresh air to enter the centre, which has a wide-open playground area surrounded by flowers. The children attending the centre enjoy playing on the swings, clambering up the climbing frame and spinning around in the playground.

Maya’s family are grateful for the support they receive from SAWA and are attending psycho-social support sessions at the Safe Haven centre. During the psycho-social support sessions, the children are brought together to meet with social workers to talk about their lives. They do activities like drawing and painting. SAWA also does activities with the children to build their connection with their Syrian cultural heritage.

The day the centre opened, the children were delighted and ran about the playground, happy to have somewhere safe and protected to play.

Hassan says that before his children went to the psycho-social support “they didn’t have any friends and they stayed at home and fought with each other”. However, after attending the sessions and doing painting and drawing, they now have friends and do a lot of activities.

“After the sessions my daughters are more comfortable, more active, are helping around the house, more involved, very positive and have more friends,” says Hassan.

Maya now plays freely on the swings, laughing with her siblings. Here, in the ‘Safe Haven’ centre, her mind is temporarily freed from the war in Syria and the hardships her family face.

Trócaire is celebrating 50 years of working together with partners, people who we support, staff, donors and supporters to create positive and lasting change. One Day showcases the profound impact of these collective efforts, highlighting the countless “One Days” where lives have been transformed. Together, for a just world. Explore more One Day stories here.

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