By Samir Badran
MA’AN, Jordan, 8 March 2012 – On a cold February day, Syrian refugee children and their parents gathered at the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD) Centre, a UNICEF partner, in the southern Jordanian town of Ma’an.
They are some of the thousands of Syrians who have made the perilous journey across the border, fleeing violence and unrest in their native towns. Since March 2011, over 4,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan have registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the number continues to climb.
For the past few months, Ma’an has become the home to many of these displaced families. Ma’an is five hours from the Syrian city of Homs and the Baba Amr suburb, which was under heavy shelling for more than a month. The violence has caused major damage to infrastructure and significant disruption to the lives of children.
Coping with violence and displacement
To help these vulnerable children cope with their exposure to the extreme violence and displacement, UNICEF has partnered with JOHUD to provide them with psychosocial support and recreational activities in a safe environment.
During sessions at the JOHUD center, trained psychosocial workers meet with children, detecting and referring those in need of specialized psychological and health services. Nearly 200 Syrian children and youth, as well as 150 parents, have taken part in the sessions.
On this wintery day, children sat in small groups, painting, drawing and engaging in other art activities, under the supervision of trained adults.
Their parents took part in group sessions where they learned about services available to them. The Government of Jordan recently announced that it is opening its public schools to displaced Syrian children, a decision warmly welcomed by all the parents in the room.
A comfort to children and families
For children, these sessions have been a critical opportunity to learn and play, and a chance to resume their childhoods.
“These children have been deeply affected by fleeing their home and the violence they have witnessed,” said Dominique Hyde, UNICEF Representative in Jordan. “Creating child-friendly spaces where children can receive psychosocial support, together with remedial education, will help them regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.”
It is a comfort to their families, as well.
“We are really grateful for this space to breathe,” said Abu Ali, who arrived with his family and his son’s family, a total of ten people.
“You cannot imagine how difficult it is living behind closed walls, constantly tuned in to our television set to find out what is happening to our country.”
*Names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identity.