BEIRUT, Lebanon, 4 November 2013 – Sitting under a tent in Kfar Zabad, Lebanon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake shared a moment with a beaming 6-year-old Syrian girl named Nana.
During a visit to Lebanon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake witnessed the country’s support for Syrian children living as refugees, and pledged continued assistance for their health, education and well-being.
As they spoke, Nana smiled and introduced her doll, clutching it tightly.
Nana arrived from Syria to Lebanon with her family and has been living in this tented settlement for a year and a half.
“I met a little girl who had made a doll out of paper to remind her of Syria,” Mr. Lake later said. “Nana told me she left her doll behind in Syria to protect her home, because she wants to go back there.”
Largest refugee population
Throughout his visit, Mr. Lake drew attention to the generosity of Lebanon in hosting the largest population of Syrian refugees.
“The Lebanese Government and people have opened their borders and hearts to those fleeing conflict in Syria,” said Mr. Lake. “The international community owes it to Lebanon to do everything it can to help adapt to this situation.”
One major concern is for children to get back to learning through formal and non-formal education, in order to prevent a lost generation. In Lebanon, there are more Syrian children of school age – projected at over 400,000 by the end of 2013 – than there are spaces in Lebanese public schools. Many schools are operating at full capacity and require a second shift.
“What really matters for the future of the region are these children,” Mr. Lake said. “They are the future doctors, teachers, leaders.”
Travelling to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Mr. Lake spoke with children, the principle of a public school, social workers, psychologists and medical teams.
At Hosh Al Omara intermediate school in Zahle, Lebanon, 60 per cent of the pupils are Syrian. In one class, children were learning to draw perpendicular lines. Mr. Lake joined the effort and earned a few silver stars, which the children gleefully placed on his forehead.
“I learned how to draw a straight line,” said Mr. Lake with a smile.
Mr. Lake also announced that UNICEF would rehabilitate the school’s water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
UNICEF, along with partner NGOs Caritas and the International Orthodox Christian Charities, is supporting the school’s children and their families with tuition fees, stationery, uniforms, school bags, medication and fuel for winter heating, as well as a vaccination campaign.
Speaking with the school principle, Ms. Abou Toma, Mr. Lake discussed the challenges of integrating Syrian children, overcrowded classes, growing numbers of impoverished Lebanese children and the progress made by students.
“Both as a professional and as a human being, I admire what you are doing,” Mr. Lake told Ms. Toma.
Learning in an informal settlement
At the Kfar Zabad tented settlement in eastern Lebanon, Mr. Lake met children and social workers during their learning activities and games.
“My impression is a mixture of exhilaration and happiness that some children are able to learn and receive psychosocial support here.” he said. “At the same time, it is heartbreaking to see the sadness in children’s eyes when they talk about home.”
UNICEF and Lebanese NGO Beyond Association are providing children at the settlement with opportunities to learn and play, mental health support, and free medical consultations and healthcare through mobile medical units supported by the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF and NGO Beyond.
“I am so inspired just looking at the children here – this is why we continue to work so hard,” said Mr. Lake.
“While we have made progress, we have to focus, as winter is arriving,” he added.“We are going to continue to be here, and to do absolutely everything we can.”
Story by Miriam Azar