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Syria: Bringing hope to children as conflict reaches six years

15 March 2017

Bringing hope to children as conflict reaches six years

Open Doors local partners are bringing hope to children in Syria as Unicef declares 2016 the deadliest year yet for children caught up in the conflict. The UN estimates that 5.8 million children are in need inside Syria with some 281,000 living under siege and 2.8 million trapped in hard to reach areas. Open Doors is working through partners on the ground to keep hope alive for these children as part of the Open Doors Hope for the Middle East campaign.

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Six years ago this week anti-government protests started within Syria that escalated, resulting in the current conflict. As war tears apart families and ravages lives in Syria, children are receiving help at special Child Friendly Spaces supported by Open Doors. These spaces are designed to provide refuge and a safe place for children to receive trauma counselling and take part in art therapy and children's activities.

These centres, funded by Open Doors supporters and run by local partner organisations, provide an oasis for children forced to grow up very prematurely because of the war and devastation around them. Many have been exposed to things that no child should ever witness.

Syrian fieldworker George* describes the child friendly space as 'a safe space where children can develop and grow and have access to critical psychosocial support'. For about two years he has been involved in such a centre in the Homs province in Syria. Some 320 children can be children again during the days they participate in the activities of the centre.

George starts by explaining the huge impact the war has on the children he sees in his environment. For millions of Syrian children their lives are unrecognisable from what they were before March 2011 when the conflict in the country began. "Many children have been directly impacted by the violence, suffering from physical and psychological trauma and being forced to leave their homes," says George. "Children as young as seven-years-old are being recruited into the armed conflict, many suffer from increased levels of physical abuse at home, and young girls are at particular risk of sexual abuse, abduction, and exploitation."

George says that many Syrian schools have been closed in this war, and in 2015 some forty schools were attacked by one of the fighting factions. Many Syrian children are not going to school because of the security situation or due to lack of available places at the schools. "Very young children are being used in child labour and girls as young as eleven-years-old are being married off, sometimes in exchange for rent and other necessities."

"After a child protection assessment done in Syria in 2014 we concluded that the support to children should increase," shared George. "The direct result of that was the opening of our Child Friendly Space in the province of Homs that autumn. The right to play and learn is a critical issue as many Syrian children have no access to a safe place to play and can't go to school."

The Child Friendly Space is located in an area close to Homs that is home to many displaced Syrians. Some 320 children each week find a safe space here where they can develop and grow and have access to psychosocial support. The program focuses primarily on activities for children ages three to fourteen and operates from Thursday to Sunday. "The activities are designed specifically for each specific age group to promote child development, psychosocial wellbeing, and coping skills. Activities include games, arts and crafts, music, drama, sports, free play, emergency education, and child protection awareness."

"The space acts as a protective environment for children, providing a safe physical space and reducing vulnerability to abuse," explains George. "By providing a safe place to learn and play, the space also reduces children's risk of becoming involved in child labour and early marriage or sexual exploitation, and it significantly improves children's psychosocial wellbeing as they regain a sense of routine and normalcy, and are able to process difficult experiences in a secure environment."

George is already seeing the first fruits of this space: "Playing is essential for their emotional and psychological development. Because their lack of opportunity to play, children felt isolated and stressed; this even led to an increased violence amongst them. Now they have their own space, they slowly start to feel better. The informal education they receive is essential to them as they can't go to school."

The Child Friendly Space has become unmissable for the children in Homs. But George sees an even wider benefit. "The Child Friendly Space engages members of the community, so it is also strengthening the ties between the Church and its surrounding community as they respond together to the needs of children."

*Names changed for security reasons

BRING HOPE TO THE MIDDLE EAST

Open Doors has launched a global, seven-year campaign to mobilise Christians around the world to bring hope to the Middle East - and we need you and your church to be a part of it. Here are three things you can do:

More News from Syria:

Find out more about persecution in Syria.