Volunteer Group Hopes To Save Syria's 'Lost Generation'

In the narrow streets of the Sabra refugee camp in Beirut, there is an apartment without windows. It's a rather gloomy place for a kindergarten, but the only place available for 70 Syrian refugee children from cities like Aleppo, Homs and Deraa. A group of volunteers come to help the children overcome their traumas through music, drawing and theater classes once a week. Some kids don't speak for weeks when they first arrive to Lebanon. A recent U.N. report warned that a "lost generation" of Syrian children is growing. The organization Save the Children reports talks about mass destruction of schools and lack of schooling.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The conflict in Syria will forever alter the lives of an entire generation of children. They'll carry memories of violence and displacement that could take a heavy toll on their psychological health.

NPR's Rima Marrouch has this story from Lebanon about a group of volunteers who are trying to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

RIMA MARROUCH, BYLINE: In the narrow streets of the notorious Sabra Refugee Camp, not far from the place, where hundreds of Palestinians were slaughtered three decades ago, there is a small kindergarten.

It's a gloomy place without windows or light. But this is what's available for 70 Syrian children from cities like Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. It's a place where refugees help refugees. The school was set up by Palestinian residents of the camp, with the help of Syrian volunteers.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN)

MARROUCH: Many of these children have been traumatized by the war across the border. Seven-year-old Badr saw his sister killed in front of his eyes. That was in Aleppo before his family fled to Lebanon. Sana, one of the volunteers working with these Syrian children says the impact on Badr was profound.

SANA: He beats everybody, his mother his father. He hates everybody. He's crying all the time. He doesn't go to school. He refuses to go to school. And the school refused him.

MARROUCH: To help children like Badr and others deal with their trauma, a team of four young volunteers - with backgrounds in art - come once a week to lead projects in theatre, music, and drawing.

SANA: All of us know the importance of art and expression by art tools. But we didn't realize that there are rules for this kind of work, so we had to understand really what is psycho-social activities.

MARROUCH: Sana manages the program here which includes a drawing class where many of children express themselves through a single image.

SANA: These very traumatized kids used to say: These are the monster. The monster is killing and destroying everything. And we think that we should be like him, to push him back. These kids, oppositely to other kids, they expressed their trauma very early on because they are that traumatized that they cannot hide it.

MARROUCH: Through theater classes, the volunteers try to teach children how to listen to one another, and how to be more confident and expressive. One exercise puts children in a circle where they take turns introducing themselves to each other.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Foreign language spoken)

(Foreign language spoken)

MARROUCH: Youssef leads the theater class. He says even getting these children to say their names can be a challenge. At first, he says many would neither listen nor talk.

YOUSEFF: (Through Translator) We have 20 to 25 children in the class. More than half did not want to talk. I would talk to them but they wouldn't answer.

MARROUCH: One of the exercises in the theater class is about professions. The instructor would ask what does a doctor do, lawyer, a teacher.

Youssef recalls asking the children about the job of a pilot.

YOUSEFF: (Through Translator) Many children started shouting: he drops bombs, he does bang-bang. I asked them doesn't the pilot transport passengers? They went silent for a moment, then they started laughing and said yeah, that too.

MARROUCH: Despite their pain and suffering, Sana believes there is hope for these children.

SANA: The trauma is there. We are not denying. The tragedy is there, we should remember but we should not live with a tragedy. When the war and this regime will pass away, we will rebuild our life.

MARROUCH: For the moment, she says, the challenge is simply to find financial support for programs like the kindergarten in the Sabra Refugee Camp.

For NPR News, I'm Rima Marrouch in Beirut.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.