Lebanon and Jordan: Healing, Nonviolent Empowerment and Preventing Extremism for War-affected Children

About This Project

Target Groups:

  • 18.000 vulnerable, at-risk and high potential Iraqi and Syrian refugee + host community children in Jordan and Lebanon;
  • 300 teachers, caregivers, peace/ social/youth frontline workers;
  • 3.000 parents / family / community members

What is the problem?

Refugee children in North Lebanon and North Jordan face anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, PTS, anger and aggression, lack of purpose, domestic violence, substance abuse, risk of recruitment, even increasing suicide. With the Syrian crisis in its 5th year, reduced international funds and resources, chronically overstretched services in host countries, we need innovative, scalable and effective methods to provide relief and empowerment and prevent long term consequences.

Project Summary

14,000+ children from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan will receive basic training in stress relief and resilience tools, while 400 children most at risk of violent behaviour, self-harm, suicide, aggression or recruitment, will receive deep trauma-relief, empowerment and human values training.  Specially trained Youth Peace Ambassadors will design and implement awareness raising and peacebuilding projects to prevent and reduce violence in their families, schools and communities.

In parallel, we will provide parents, families, caregivers, community members, teachers, caseworkers, youth and protection workers, with stress management and coping tools to enable them to provide a supportive and violence free environment for the children. A selected number of teachers and NGO staff will be trained as trainers to keep multiplying these techniques in their schools and communities on a sustainable basis.

Timing

3 years (Starting date 15th December 2016)

STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS

In order to make sure this project will benefit the children most at risk and least supported, IAHV consulted key stakeholders in Amman and the refugee camps in Jordan, as well as in Tripoli, Lebanon. Together with representatives of the ministries, municipalities, local and international NGO’s, UN agencies and others, we analysed the driving factors of violence in children’s lives which need to be addressed, and looked into which services are already provided and where the gaps exist.
Stakeholders expressed that IAHV programs are needed on a big scale, but especially for unaccompanied refugee children and their foster families, overstretched frontline workers, and violence affected schools in Tripoli.
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PROJECT ACTIVITIES LEBANON – Jordan below

Despite the heat and the summer vacation which kept many children at home, our team in Lebanon has been offering stress relief, resilience and empowerment programs to affected and vulnerable children and to mothers from Abou Samra, Beddawi, Dahr El Moghor and Qobbeh.

  • We conducted our first THRH (Trauma-Relief, Healing, Resilience and Human Values) Training with 20 youth (13 to 15 years old) who had faced strong traumas.
  • 35 SRR (Stress Relief and Resilience) workshops have been offered to 1,021 Syrian and Lebanese children and youth participants. (495 boys and 526 girls)
  • 10 HRE (Healing, Resilience and Empowerment) Trainings have been offered to 291 women, some of whose children have attended the SRR & THRH workshops.

Background of the children

Most of the participants so far are Syrian refugees, coming from Aleppo and residing in Abu Samra and Beddawi now. These families, and especially women and children, suffer from economic and social hardship. Though many of them were also poor in Syria, they were living in much better conditions there. While they would have their own house in Syria, they now share a depot with a role up metal door or a small apartment with more than 3 families. Often the main provider of the family has been imprisoned, injured or killed, or is accepting just any job so that the family can survive. Though they may have a good educational background, they now need to be content with a blue-collar job in Lebanon. Due to poverty, also some of the children work at the age of 12. Despite this situation, most of the families encourage their children go to school. Some of the girls have been subjected to early marriage.

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Stress Relief and Resilience Experiences

A 9th grader from Beddawi was at times reacting very aggressively and angrily towards his peers, and would then feel bad about it. During the SRR Program, he felt he was able to release these suppressed emotions as he shared:

There were all those emotions inside me: frustration, anger, hatred, pain. When I did this exercise, I felt that these feelings, which I have been using in my life have all vanished. And when I had my hands closed I felt that all those feelings were trapped inside. And when I opened my eyes, I felt something went out of my body and I felt deeply rested, as if I became another person… I felt calmness. Feelings of frustration, anger, hatred, sadness and pain have vanished from my body. Thank you very much for getting us out of this entanglement… Thank you very much

An 8th grader from Beddawi, has been very shy with low self-confidence and many supressed emotions. During the SRR Program, she was able to release these feelings and regain her self-confidence as she shared:

When I completed this exercise, I felt great rest and relaxation, as if I got rid of all the aches and anxieties that were inside me.

When I opened my eyes, I felt reassured and safe as if I was reborn in a new world.

When I opened my hands, I felt that the feelings which have been inhibiting my self-confidence and my courage have left my body… and when I got rid of them [negative feelings], I regained self-confidence and I felt the courage and determination filling my entire body.

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Trauma-Relief, Healing, Resilience and Human Values Training Experiences

A 7th grader, was very shy and introvert because he was bullied by his peers for his physical structure. He was feeling left out because other children were avoiding to play with him. He was suppressing much pain and sadness but on the last day of the training he was able to stand up for himself and politely stopped someone from mocking him. He also proved his importance in the team and showed those who were making fun of him how he can excel them in other areas and complement them instead of competing with them. He shared that he felt much stronger in his body and spirit, and that now he feels he can do anything.

A 7th grader, was strongly influenced by and following his friends’ footsteps to the extent he was living in their shadows. He was suppressing lots of anger and frustration, which he succeeded to eliminate during the training and was able to experience great rest and calmness according to his sharing. On the last day of the training he reached self-confidence and depicted signs of excellence far from his friends’ influence thus proving himself as a leader having his own personality.

A 7th grader, shared that during the relaxation after the breathing he felt his heart was expanding and there was a strong energy flowing into his body, making him feel very strong and happy.

An 8th grader from Abou Samra, suffered from breathing problems and sleeping disorder. He was also very introvert and wasn’t willing to take initiative at the start of the program. On the last day he slept very deep during the relaxation after the breathing exercises and shared that he hadn’t felt that much rest before. He also showed great leadership skills and responsibility towards his team and was able to enhance his self-confidence. He shared:

I felt great rest. The exercise after the deep breath was important. I felt the tiredness being eliminated from my body. The dizziness left my body. All the negativity was eliminated from my body.

A 7th grader, was feeling very angry and sometimes very aggressive with his peers. He said he was not able to relax. However, during the course he was able to feel deep rest:

I was very relaxed when I was lying down. I am so rested and my happiness is indescribable.

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Healing, Resilience and Empowerment Training Experiences

A Syrian mother in her early 50-s who lost both her sons in the war, was very gloomy and crying most of the time. This bothered her husband and family and made her feel separated from them. She felt alone with her memories and felt that even if she would smile it would be as if she would betray the memory of her sons. However, during the HRE Program she was able to express all the suppressed feelings that she couldn’t share with her near ones. She sang for her sons and feel deeper yet more peaceful connection with them. She felt as if her heart opened up to life again! She shared:

The training suited me as I am a mother of martyrs; I felt mentally and physically relaxed and I wish that we always have trainings for the body to get rid of worries; I felt that the human health is very important in order to live in the society as a normal person, and how to eliminate premature ageing. Thank you.

Since her husband disappeared during the war, a Syrian woman has been covering up her physical and emotional pain with jokes in order to look strong in front of her family. She was always suffering from many cramps in her body, which troubled her very much. During the HRE Program, she felt her ailments relieved as she shared:

I enjoyed the exercises as it helped me to get rid of my stomach and colon cramps and relieved me from the intractable diseases in my body.

Thanks for being able to remove some of the pain from our hearts.

A mother, supporting her family and was always feeling burdened with a lot of suppressed emotions. During the HRE Program she was able to eliminate these as she shared:

I enjoyed this activity and the training was wonderful and more than wonderful. It has changed my feelings and the extent of the inner sadness that I have put in myself. I have learned the correct way to breathe and to enjoy the daily exercises, which was the best I have experienced in my life. I got rid of the internal toxins and I came back to my house psychologically relaxed, calm and full of energy, the thing which I was looking for long time ago.

I reached a great peace of mind, which helped me to be content and endure all that is difficult in our daily lives.

A 16 year old Syrian mother who got married at the age of 14 because her family wanted to protect her from being raped during the war, and who got divorced after she turned 16. She wasn’t able to share her feelings with anyone of her family despite their support for her, she couldn’t even cry. During the HRE Program, she was able to open up, share her feelings and dreams and release her suppressed tears. She shared how her life was happy before she was 14 and how it changed after 16, raising a strong awareness message to all families not to marry off their girls at young age.

PROJECT ACTIVITIES JORDAN

In the Summer of 2017, 204 of the most vulnerable and at risk children and youth from Syria and Jordan graduated from IAHV’s intense 5-day Trauma-Relief, Healing and Human Values Trainings. 60 Syrian and Jordanian youth consequently became Youth Anti-Violence and Peace Ambassadors empowered to prevent and reduce violence in their schools and communities.

The participants, their supervisors as well as IAHV’s trainers all noticed a huge shift in the wellbeing, attitude and behaviour of the children. Children who lacked self-esteem, isolated themselves, displayed aggressive behaviour, or suffered from anxiety, depression and PTSD, gradually opened up, engaged with the training program, became more positive and enthusiastic, and experienced relief from long term traumas. Shy and reclusive children transformed into effective leaders taking responsibility for peace projects in their schools and communities. Conflicts and fights between different groups of children transformed into increased understanding, acceptance and joint singing, dancing and celebration.

Background of the children

The children/youths referred by SOS Village Amman are Jordanian or Palestinian orphans or children with families that are unable to support/raise them. These youths/children, who were the most vulnerable children from SOS village, initially suffered from a lack of hope in life, general distrust and indifference, and often expressed aggressive and uncooperative behaviour.

The children from Jerash referred by Medical Relief were all Syrians who escaped the war. As children, they had not experienced the actual conflict, but were suffering from the toll it had taken on their families.

The children referred by Child Care were all Syrian girls, most of whom did not attend school because their parents were afraid of the violence in schools towards Syrian children.

The trainings

The trainings were both challenging and beautiful. Some of the boys were particularly aggressive towards one another and the trainers at the beginning of the training. Their hostile attitude towards life exposed their insecurities and lack of self-esteem, all of which could be traced back to their history of different kinds of abuse. Day by day, love and attention paired with the breathing techniques proved to be the remedy for the violence. The violent behavior among the boys reduced dramatically by the end of the training; the boys were able to control their violent tendencies and eventually control their reactions to avoid fights all together.

Also certain girls under care were very rude to girls from the other organizations, but during the training they actually made friends and were sad to part ways from the other girls at the end.

Although initially reluctant to do the breathing techniques, most participants later looked forward to the rhythmic breathing portion of the training and became very keen on continuing the practice, seen as it was the reason for their newly found relief. Through these rhythmic breathing techniques, the traumas these children had faced in their lives initially became more evident, before their aggression, isolation and depression were replaced with inner peace. Despite their burdensome past and traumas, the children developed deep connections with their trainers.

In one particular exercise that involved eye-gazing, the participants were fully able to put their nationalities aside, and silently share the true meaning of humanity. In the days that followed, supervisors from our partnering organizations were thanking us for our efforts, as they too had seen a drastic change in the attitudes of their kids.

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Feedback from our Partner Organizations

The organisations we worked with have been praising the work IAHV has done with the children under their care. The Youth Coordinator from the SOS village informed us that their kids are more confident, calmer, and more hopeful towards their future. The supervisors of the youngest age group were very vocal about their appreciation for the positive energy boost we have instilled in their children. They also observed that earlier the children would separate themselves into groups according to nationality, with the Syrians on one side and the Jordanians on the other. Now they all sit together, sharing stories from their training, playing games, and practising the techniques that were shared with them by our trainers.

Other changes reported by our partner organizations include reduced violence, increased school participation, and restored optimism.

Stories from the Trainings (YAVAP Girls):

A 14-year-old Syrian who is living with conservative parents: On the first day she cried, because her parents push her to be perfect, but she cannot: “I cannot get 100% on exams, only 98. If you ask me to dance, I won’t, because I know I will fail. If you ask me to sing, I cannot, because I won’t know word by word what the lyrics are.” Afraid of failure, she refused to try while other girls were singing. For the last night of the training, she asked her parents if she could stay the night. After receiving permission, she packed her stuff and strutted happily the next day. That night, after learning that you need to live the moment as it comes, she got up to dance. First she was scared, but when she saw the encouragement from everyone around her, the clapping and the smiles, she let loose. It was her first time dancing, ever. She didn’t know what to do with her body, hips, hands and legs, but she didn’t care. She just moved, laughed and shook with happiness, saying she finally felt free.

A 16-year-old Jordanian orphan: very athletic and energetic, but constantly running around and very hyper. When you see her, you see pure confidence, but when you get closer, she pushes you aside. As the days went by, her tough act was dropped and her vulnerable side showed. After getting into a fight with one of the other girls, she stood for 10 minutes choking on her apology. Upon finally saying it, she collapsed, crying, repeating the words “I’m sorry”. That same night, she interacted more with the girls. Before, the girls would blast music and dance each night, but she would shrug and tell us it wasn’t her thing. That night, however, she joined in, stood front line, and danced like she has never done before.

A 16 year old, very conservative and quiet Syrian refugee girl: Her parents wanted her to benefit fully from the experience and to stay all nights at the camp in order to increase her confidence, so she was the only Syrian present at night. The first night around the bonfire she was scared, looking at everyone clapping and singing and having a good time. When we asked her what her favorite song was, so we could sing it for her to enjoy, she blankly stared back and whispered: “I don’t know any music, all I know is the Quran.” That same night, she slept with her hijab on, scared of judgement and punishment if she would let go. Each day and after every session, her voice was getting louder. By the last day, she was sharing opinions and her voice was being heard. At the last bonfire, she played the Arabic drums herself, banging on them enthusiastically, urging everyone to sing so she could try to follow their rhythm. After watching a film about overcoming obstacles and knowing your true talents, she was the first one to comment, loudly, saying: “Life throws many challenges your way, and it is up to you to take it, and turn it into something productive.”

A 16-year-old orphan living in the SOS villages: People around her claimed she was very violent and aggressive. Her supervisor stated that once she is triggered, she is like an ‘untamed bull’. 6 years ago, her father, not sober, beat her mother to death in front of her, and turned himself in. Ever since then, any threatening situation triggers those memories and she attacks. A little comment from a friend at camp triggered her anger and she lashed out and scratched her face. After sitting and talking, she mentioned the techniques of the training and calmed down, saying:

“In these few days, I have learned to forgive my father, and move on with my life. Life goes on, and if you don’t move with it, your memories will suffocate you. I forgive him, I forgive my friend. Life is too short.”

AWARENESS RAISING and DEVELOPING SYNERGIES

Our team has been visiting different Embassies in Jordan and Lebanon to raise awareness about IAHV’s innovative, effective and scalable peacebuilding approach and to explore cooperation and synergies with ongoing programs and priority areas. The diplomats expressed a lot of interest in our programs and we enjoyed the engaging and informative conversations.

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OUR TEAMS

In a regional culture where NGO’s are often suspected of serving one interest or the other, where “volunteers” expect payment, and where NGO staff often work for salaries, not from inspiration, we are extremely fortunate and grateful to work with our inspired, selfless and committed teams who care deeply for humanity.

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Date

20 November

Category
Middle East