Love Shines through in War Zones

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day remind us one of the greatest love on earth – parents love. Moms and dads never cease to love their children and always try to give them the best. However, not every parent is capable to do that, especially those living among disasters and conflicts. In April, images and videos of Alyouself, a Syrian father crying and carrying his twin babies who had died during a chemical attack, quickly spread all over the internet. His story stirred many hearts. However, there are many other tragic stories, and we must not forget about those living among the world’s many crises and disasters.

The Largest Humanitarian Crisis

We are living in a generation where humanitarian needs are growing and exceeding historical records. Over 20 million people are facing starvation across South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen. The United Nations says this could be the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945.

More than 65 million people are forcibly displaced around the world. About 21 million of them are refugees, and among them, half are children. Syria is still the country that produces the largest refugee population. Seven years into the conflict and still no peace is in sight.

What Syrian Children Need

In Hong Kong, after six years, a child finishes primary school and attained basic reading, writing, and math skills. Yet, in Syria, after six years, children have had a miserable childhood, being displaced and uneducated.

Across Syria, schools, hospitals, roads, and water supplies have all been targets of bombing and remain unrepaired. While in host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, resettlement has become long term, stretching, and adding pressure to these countries’ economies, social welfare, and resources.

Children living in crisis like this are bearing the unthinkable, including:
  • A deficit of food, nutrition and health services: The World Food Programme has warned that children in Syria now face “irreversible” health problems as a result of nutrient deprivation. Child and maternal mortality is also rapidly increasing in Syria and neighbouring host countries.
  • Child labour: Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labour in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.
  • Child marriage: Without adequate income and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents may opt to arrange marriages for their daughters. The number of girls married under-18 in Jordanian communities hosting refugees has nearly tripled, from 12% in 2011 to 32% in 2014.
  • Unprotected: Refugee children are more vulnerable to violence, such as being raped, sexually exploited, or trafficked; unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable.
  • Loss of education: Of the 2.4 million refugee children, nearly 900,000 are not in school, while inside Syria, 2.1 million children are without access to education. Girls are particularly affected.
  • Detrimental impact: Children displaced by violence have vivid and recent memories of warfare, casualties, and terror. Without urgent psychosocial recovery support, there are fears that the current generation will fall into a repeated cycle of violence.

Fears and Dreams

As the conflict marked its 6th anniversary, we interviewed 100 Syrian children and asked them to share their fears and dreams to show how exposure to violence can influence a child’s view of the world and their ability to remain hopeful. The majority of the children feared for their safety: they are afraid of airstrikes, shelling, and explosions. 50% of the children said their dreams are peace for Syria and being able to return home, while 33% dream of becoming professionals like teachers and doctors.

Wynn Flaten, Director of World Vision’s Syria Response says: “For many of us working to support families in this intractable conflict, our biggest fear has always been that the hopes of Syria’s children might fade. This report has thankfully done something to allay that concern for us. However, it is wrong to say these children are resilient. What they’ve seen and experienced will stay with them their whole lives and they will need ongoing support. The report’s overwhelming conclusion is that all children have fears and dreams. Whether they become a reality is up to us.”

Children Experience Love

“Experience love” is one of four World Vision’s child well-being aspirations, aiming to help children learn to love and be loved so that they can grow up and experience life in all its fullness. At World Vision, we vow to bring love to children in crisis. Whenever an emergency occurs, care and protection for children is one of our top priorities.

Our core child protection response is to set up a Child Friendly Space (CFS). Each CFS is different depending on the culture and the emergency. The location of the CFS is often chosen with the community, including children, to identify the safest place to operate it.

While each CFS looks different, all have these six elements:
  1. We have fun
    Children in emergency situations have been through experiences like no other. By offering a place filled with games, sports, drama, and cultural activities, it helps them switch off from their worries and concerns. These activities bring light and colour into their lives to remind them there is hope in this world and for their future.
  2. We provide safety
    Emergencies can cause destruction and devastation in a community. Instead of safe places, children are faced with many places where they can be hurt such as collapsed buildings, flooded rivers, and washed out roads. Emergencies also increase a child’s vulnerability to being exploited and abused. World Vision CFSs ensure children are safe – that there is at least one place they do not have to fear for their lives.
  3. We support
    Emergencies cause children to experience things they never should. Processing these experiences is a key step to moving forward. Our CFSs are run by skilled staff and volunteers, trained in providing child-based psychological and social support. Through our fun activities, World Vision creates a space for children to express their feelings of fear and loss. Little by little, children grow in confidence and become more comfortable in expressing themselves through play. This process helps them realise that they are not alone and that they’re loved.
  4. We educate
    In an emergency, children are unable to attend school due to displacement, collapsed buildings, or a lack of general safety. At World Vision CFSs, informal education is provided with a key focus on literacy and numeracy skills. Children can also learn about life skills, health, hygiene, and child rights.
  5. We create community
    A key part of our CFS is coming together as a new community. It helps foster positive relationships and encourage team work and acceptance. It allows us to share information and learn what the community needs. We also help reunite children separated from families and distribute items such as lunches, water, books, and basic survival items.
  6. We supervise
    One of the key challenges in emergency settings is parents trying to continue to earn an income. CFSs offer parents a safe place for their children so they are able to attend to daily activities, whether that be working, tending the garden, searching for work, or receiving aid. It also becomes a place for parents to meet and support each other.

Love Shines through at Child Friendly Spaces

In 2013, World Vision and Columbia University worked together to study and evaluate the impact of CFSs. The study was based on the CFS set up for Congolese children in a refugee camp in western Uganda. They found that children who frequently attended CFSs were able to sustain their psychosocial well-being, while children who did not attend CFSs showed a marked deterioration.

The study also shows when children had access to a CFS, the positive impact on their parents and caregivers was substantial. Over time, parents said their concerns and stresses about how their children were doing, given everything they had been through, were reduced.

With donors’ support, World Vision enters some of the most devastated and fragile communities, setting up Child Friendly Spaces to gradually bring children out of their pain, trauma and help them feel loved again.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
– The Prayer of St. Francis

May our work rekindle the hearts of traumatised children, especially children living under the influence of brutal conflict, so when they feel loved, they can love others and spread peace.

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