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Voices from Lebanon: “Thank you for not giving up on my son”

Aoife O'Grady | 25 April 2017 | 0 Comments

Concern and ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department, are working together to ensure that Syrian children like Kareem* have the opportunity to learn and develop to their full potential.

Kareem*, getting ready to go to Concern’s non-formal education learning centre with his mother, Mahira*, who is also a Concern facilitator, teaching Arabic classes. Photo: Chantale Fahmi/Concern Worldwide 2017.

Born into war

Kareem was born into war: as the crisis in Syria turns six this year, so does he. His infancy ran parallel to the grim infancy of the growing conflict. And by the time he was a toddler, Kareem was also a refugee – his family fleeing to Lebanon for safety.

Leaving Syria, Kareem’s family was ripped from everything and everyone they knew, and the stress and anxiety of displacement left a cruel mark on him. Little Kareem became increasingly isolated from other children and attached to the only constant in his life – his family, in particular his mother, Mahira*.

As Kareem grew, refugee life became the permanent reality for his family who had now settled in northern Lebanon. And Mahira, who worked as a teacher back in Syria, grew ever more concerned about his social development and his education.

Kareem* walking to Concern’s non-formal education learning centre near his home in northern Lebanon. Photo: Chantale Fahmi/Concern Worldwide 2017.

Mahira tells us:

I enrolled Kareem in kindergarten but he refused to go. I would go and sit with him at first, but then I was asked to leave him. Later they told me that there is no hope with Kareem since he would not stop crying the whole day.

Most parents – wherever they are – can empathise with the wrench of leaving a sobbing child at playschool. However for most children it’s a short-lived whimper – not an all day, every day cry.. Having lived through so much, Kareem was simply struggling to cope.

Mainstream school "simply not an option"

When the time came to begin school, Mahira knew that the mainstream system simply wasn’t an option. That’s why she was so relieved to discover Concern’s early childhood education (ECE) programme, funded by ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department, which helps to prepare children for formal education in the Lebanese system.

When she enrolled him at first, Kareem again resisted attending, crying and lashing out when his mother tried to leave. However, Rania*, one of specially-trained facilitators soon stepped in, working one-to-one with Kareem to help him control his anger and settle into the centre. Rania, like all of our ECE team, is trained to deal with the particular needs of refugee children, all of whom are suffering the stress of displacement and many of whom have lived through extreme trauma.

Under the guidance of our facilitators, bit by bit, Kareem learnt to hold a pencil and write. He can now write in Arabic and French, and is able to sing songs in both languages too.

Kareem and his friends taking part in Concern’s non-formal education programme at a learning centre in north Lebanon. The children in this class are aged between three and five. Photo: Chantale Fahmi/Concern Worldwide 2017.

Mahira says:

The Concern education field officer, Iman Dhaibi, was always a support ... She would talk to Kareem in private and encourage him and ask him about his day. I am very thankful to Concern and Iman for helping my son and taking action and not giving up on him.

A stepping stone to education 

Our ECE programme has provided a stepping stone for Kareem to make the leap into formal education in Lebanon. Thanks to her persistence and Kareem’s resilience, his mother is now confident that he will cope well when the time comes. He has become more active in class and is now mixing well with the other children – he even has a best friend, called Asif*. His aggressive outbursts at home have stopped and he is dreaming of what he might become when he grows up – maybe a mechanic, maybe a veterinarian – he has plenty of time to decide.

Concern Worldwide education officer, Nour Al Hajal, with a group of children attending a non-formal education programme that focuses on early childhood education in northern Lebanon. Photo: Chantale Fahmi/Concern Worldwide 2017.   

Preventing a "lost generation"

Of course, the challenges facing Kareem’s family and the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have found safety in Lebanon have not disappeared. Kareem – like many others – is haunted by those he left behind and keeps asking his mother where his grandparents are. However, Concern and ECHO are working with communities to help ensure that Kareem and his peers don’t become part of a lost generation. Apart from early childhood education, we’re also providing Syrian children in Lebanon with homework support and classes for basic literacy and numeracy in French. Crucially for children like Kareem who are struggling to process their emotions, we offer psychosocial support and engage and encourage parents through parent and caregiver groups. Since 2016, our ECHO-funded education programmes in Lebanon have helped 2,614 children.  

The present is undeniably challenging but our aim is to ensure that a different future is possible for Kareem and the children of Syria.

Mahira concludes:

I dream that my son will continue his education and, since he took the correct first steps with Concern, I believe that he is on the right path. I will encourage him and I know that organisations like Concern will always encourage him and help him succeed.

*Names changed for security purposes

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