What happens to people when they run away from war? How does their everyday life look before they settle in a new place? How does living in a refugee camp affect them, and why do so many of them attempt to cross the Meditarrenean on those wretched boats? Pandeia concludes its refugee feature with a story from a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Alaa wakes up early everyday to go to school. While for many children this can be very unpleasant, for Alaa it’s different. She counts the hours till she has to get up.
A few months earlier there was no school. Alaa still had to get up early every day, but for a different reason. She had to work on the field with her brothers and other children from the camp to harvest potatoes. It was hard work and the weather was very hot and the landowner would often be very harsh on them. Even when she returned home she was too tired to play. This made her think of her life back in Syria, when all she did was study and play and she often thought about her bicycle which she had to leave behind.
12 year old Alaa is one of nearly 350,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The small Mediterranean country stands as the largest host to Syrian refugees with nearly 1.2 million according to the latest UNHCR stats. This number represents a huge pressure on the already fragmented economy and infrastructure in Lebanon.
Refugees on the camp live in informal tented settlements with some tents having as many as 18 people inside.
Each family has to register at the UN office to get a coupon which they can use to buy their necessities; registering also keeps the family on the donations’ list.
Daily problems on the camp include water scarcity and lack of sanitation while winter stands as the biggest life threat. Beqaa is known to have an extremely cold winter which the tents are not equipped to handle. Families resort to burning tires or plastic for heating which poses some health threats. Providing for a family isn’t easy as well, in the few instances where the head of the family could get a job, they would work in collecting garbage or construction work while the children would work in agriculture while early marriages are also very common among refugees.
Domestic violence is a pervasive phenomenon especially among children due to the scenes of blood and war they have witnessed on the way to Lebanon.
A turning point in Alaa’s life was when a local NGO in partnership with a Lebanese University established a school on the camp. The purpose was to prevent these children from being a “lost generation” by keeping them in the educational loop .
“The moment they step into the classroom they forget about anything else” said Ahmed, one of the teachers on the camp describing the children. The teachers, who are Syrian refugees themselves were trained by several NGOs to provide psychosocial support to the traumatized children. The school didn’t only help the children but also the parents. It is used as a channel to communicate necessary information about issues ranging from personal hygiene to human rights. This information is relayed in weekly meetings between the teachers and the parents.
Although most children still have to work, they organize their shifts so they can go to school either in the morning or the afternoon.
Every week, children are asked to write a story to express themselves. Alaa called her story “The wounds of Syria” describing how she had a normal life before the war and how everything changed. She described the bombardment and the dead bodies she saw on the way to Lebanon.
Alaa ended her story with the words “Please look upon the wounds of Syria through a small hole, you will see great pain”.
By Nouran El-Behairy