Bringing Hope and Healing to Syrian Refugee Children
Since the Syrian civil war officially began March 15, 2011, families have suffered under a brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused many more to become refugees. More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and another 6.2 million are displaced within Syria. Half of the people affected are children.
Syrian refugee children have been exposed to trauma through violent conflict, persecution, and forced displacement, which disrupts the nurturing, consistent environments that children need for healthy and holistic development. When families flee violence or persecution in Syria and find themselves living as refugees, they are typically plunged into poverty because they either cannot legally work in their host country or cannot find job openings.
Over one million of the refugees from Syria have settled in Lebanon, with a large number living in informal settlements or otherwise not easily able to integrate into their new country. The lack of job opportunities for parents means children often find themselves laboring in agriculture or on the street to support their family. Many refugee children are years behind in their education or have never attended formal school.
The Syrian Transitional Education Program (STEP) is a Nazarene church-run compassionate outreach to Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon which works to meet the educational and emotional needs of refugee children. During the last year, the program served 48 students. All enrolled students are given needed school supplies, textbooks, and hot meals. The students share similar life situations in terms of displacement, loss of school years, and living in poverty as refugees. STEP provides opportunities for them share their experience with one another as they learn and play together.
STEP students receive five hours of intensive instruction daily in English, Arabic, math, science, and physical education, helping Syrian children living as refugees to make up for lost years of schooling and equip them to complete the English entrance exam for Lebanese official schools. STEP teachers are trained in basic trauma-informed care and equipped to approach the students with sensitivity and patience and to provide genuine, positive feedback regularly to increase confidence.
One Student’s Story
Sahir* (10), lives with his two sisters and parents in an impoverished neighborhood in Lebanon. Their family used to live in Syria. When ISIS attacked their city, they lived in fear. Sahir and his sisters were traumatized. They would cry and scream every time they heard the sound of planes and bombs exploding around them. After a year, the family fled in search of safety and stability for the children.
When they first arrived in Lebanon, Sahir was 5 years old and joined a Lebanese official afternoon school, which was funded by the United Nations, as a kindergarten student. He was progressing very slowly academically, though; his parents were unable to help him with his schoolwork, and he was not receiving enough individualized support. When his mother enrolled him in STEP’s morning program, Sahir began to thrive. After just three months of receiving educational support at STEP, Sahir’s mother noticed huge progress in his academics. He participates well in class and shows enthusiasm. He enjoys mathematics most of all, and he is learning English quickly. The program director says she expects that he will cover two grades’ worth of schooling in one year.
Sahir attends STEP in the mornings and goes to the official school in the afternoons. Although it is difficult at times, his mother shared with the program director that “Sahir wakes up very early in the morning, even before I wake up, and prepares himself to come to your educational program. He really enjoys it.” Sahir is eager to learn and shows improvement daily. He is usually the first student to arrive and the last to leave.
Most importantly, Sahir has also been healing from the trauma he experienced in Syria and during displacement in Lebanon and is happier and more confident. He is friendly and has a smile on his face practically all the time while he is at STEP, according to the program director.
Both of Sahir’s parents work hard to make ends meet and are eager to provide education to their children. Sahir’s mother has also asked about enrolling her two daughters in STEP. She would like them to experience the same kind of progress that Sahir has experienced.
While the need is great, church-run compassion programs like STEP are making a tangible difference and providing hope for a better future for the refugee children from Syria.
*Children’s names are changed for their protection, per child protection policies