Off the Streets and Away from DangerBy George Mghames
Little Mhammad, who is only 10 and possesses a strong and mature personality, was a victim of street labour. He used to spend eight hours a day on the streets of a town in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, selling tissue paper and chewing gum.
“I did not have any other choice. My parents were both out of work. I had to work to help my family survive,” says Mhammad. “It was never easy for me hearing people yell at me, some even tried to hit me.”
The long-established issue of working street children in Lebanon is becoming alarming, especially after the start of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011. According to the “Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon” conducted by UNICEF, UNHCR and World Food Programme (WFP), 2.2% of Syrian refugee children between the ages of 5 and 17 were engaged in labour.
To reduce the risk on these children, World Vision provides them with community-based psychosocial support (PSS) in an identified safe space near the streets where they work, and aims to raise awareness on their safety. These children are also referred to focused psycho-social support services where they can learn about conflict resolution, communication, teamwork and much more.
Mhammad has been taking part in the focused PSS sessions for five months. “He is among the children who improved the most in the focused PSS activities,” says Michelle, the social worker assisting in the programme, “He used to curse, shout and hit his friends in class, but now he is calmer and friendlier.”
Michelle takes pride in Mhammad’s progress. “Not only were we able to address behavioural change with Mhammad, but we were also able to help him enrol in the Basic Literacy and Numeracy classes, where he is learning how to read and write. He wrote his name for the first time!” reveals Michelle.
Through the Child Protection programme, World Vision, in partnership with other organisations, aims to lower the risk on street working children and raise awareness on their safety, boost their self-esteem, and promote resilience.
Mhammad’s father, Hamad, had to flee his town Raqqa in Syria to Lebanon in 2013. Hamad faced challenges finding a job in Lebanon, due to his age and the limited opportunities. “We were forced to ask Mhammad to work. We really needed the extra income, since the subsidies we receive from humanitarian organisations is not enough. But now, I want to make sure he continues his education, and this is why we asked him to stop working and focus more on his studies,” assures Hamad.
“I love this place. I have made a lot of friends here. I would like to become a teacher one day. In order to achieve this dream, I need to make sure I continue my education,” says Mhammad. “I am so happy that World Vision helped me stop working and encouraged me to start learning.” Through World Vision’s intervention, Mhammad, as well as some 300 other who are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, now have hope for tomorrow.