March 10, 2017

ADRA Kurdistan Brings Childhood Back to Syrian Refugee Children

Chanmin Chung, Communication Coordinator, Middle East and North Africa Union

Dilan Mahmoud, a 10-year-old Syrian girl, arrived at the Kawergosk refugee camp in August 2013. The camp is located in the Khabat District, about 23 miles (37 km) west of Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan.

While her parents were busy managing the rough life in the camp during the day, Dilan had to stay in a tent and take care of her four younger sisters, who ranged from six months to nine years old, as she longed for her home, her school, and her friends back in Syria.

Although Dilan had been accepted by a government school, she stopped attending the school because she felt no desire for learning in that unstable situation, and it was hard for her parents to help her since they had almost no formal education.

“I want to be an even better student than when I was in Syria”

When Dilan first came to the Children Friendly Spaces (CFS), operated by Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Kurdistan, in February 2016, she was not excited about it. Soon, however, she fell in love with the place and its diverse programs. Now she loves to learn English, Arabic, and traditional dancing, as she intends to go back to the government school in the future.

“I want to be an even better student than when I was in Syria,” said Dilan.

Hamreen Mahmoud, Dilan’s mother, said the camp where they are interned has no parks or playgrounds for children, but thanks to CFS, children can go out of their tent, play with friends, and increase their learning.

Since February 2016, ADRA Kurdistan has served a monthly average of 420 Syrian refugee children in need of a quality learning location and protection.

The project aims to ensure that vulnerable children between the ages of three and eleven develop cognitive skills and heal their psychological distress from traumatic war experiences.

“Children are the most affected victims in any conflict,” said Günther Wallauer, director of ADRA—the humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—for the Middle East and North Africa.

Fatima Ali, mother of five-year-old Mohammed Ali, witnessed what Wallauer was talking about in her son’s experience.

Fatima did not want Mohammed to play outside of the small tent, because of the contamination produced by the sewage outflows in the camp. She was afraid that he would get ill.

For months, Mohammed had no one to play with. His family noticed that he had become more and more depressed and violent than before, so they enrolled him with CFS, in the hopes that the project would help Mohammed solve his emotional and psychological problems.

One of the classrooms in the Kawergosk refugee camp, in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where ADRA is providing Syrian refugee children with learning and playing opportunities.

At the beginning, Mohammed struggled with his friends and teachers, as he wanted to stay isolated from the rest. His progress was slow, but now Mohammed gets actively involved in the program activities.

“This place brings joy to me and my family,” said Fatima. “We are so happy to see that he is playing with friends and learning from CFS teachers.”

CFS’s major project activities are non-formal education options such as Arabic, English, Kurdish, math, science, history; and recreational activities like drawing, clay modeling, face-painting, contests, music, and sports. Additionally, the children can borrow books from a small CFS library and take them home for one week.

“This initiative is meant to increase the kids’ interest for reading, studying and learning,” said Liander Reis, manager of the CFS project.

Every week, refugee children take special classes about hygiene, safety, water conservation, and nutrition. They learn how to take care of their health and the environment. The center also vaccinates the children and distributes winter items and food.

“Save the Children,” an international non-governmental organization for children, has partnered with ADRA Kurdistan to provide non-clinical psychological support, that focuses on strengthening the positive coping skills and resilience of children, their families, and their communities.

The CFS project is also supported by other organizations such as ADRA Germany and ADRA Czech Republic, among others.

“We appreciate all the support for refugee children and their families,” said Wallauer. “But this is an ongoing situation, and there are more children who need our help.”