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