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Saying good bye to the new friends I made at the Sports City. ©Al-Bustan NGO.

Saying good bye to the new friends I made at the Sports City. ©Al-Bustan NGO.

Field diary by Yasmine Saker

Lattakia/ Tartous, 18 June, 2015 – Dozens of children gathered outside the child friendly space as our car pulled up to Lattakia’s Sports City. Stomping colorful plastic sandals, they impatiently waited their turn to participate in the scheduled recreational activities.

It was my first field mission and I didn’t really know what to expect. My colleagues and I approached the children to say hello but we could hardly hear each other over the screams, claps and songs, welcoming us. They asked for our names then cheerfully exclaimed: “We love you Miss Rima! We love you Miss Yasmine!” I certainly had not expected to find so much love, confidence and hope in the hearts of children who have witnessed so many horrors in their short lives.

With escalating violence in rural Aleppo, Idlib and rural Lattakia, hundreds of thousands of families have sought refuge in the relatively-safer coastal cities. Lattakia’s Sports City alone is home to more than 1,300 families, including 3,500 children. UNICEF is working with partners to provide psychosocial support to children between the ages of 5 and 18, and their mothers in Sports City. Activities include age-appropriate interactive exercises aimed at facilitating the expression of emotions and build life skills. Games, sports, and recreational activities can help children cope with the situation and build resilience.

Nine-year-old Seedra excitedly showed me a cardstock sign around her neck noting her turn in recreational activities. “We made these signs in crafts class and I chose to decorate mine with glittery flowers,” she explained to me. “We each get two days a week to come here and play. After we leave, I spend my time thinking of what to draw next time I come. I love drawing,”

I walked into the huge hall that echoed giggles mixed with the volunteers’ instructions for games and activities. Children were divided into groups according to age, and each group was engaged in activities from sports, games, plays, dancing, painting and crafts. The place was bubbling with positive energy.

But I was told that wasn’t always the case.

“Many of the children were showing signs of distress, they were in some kind of shock because they had to leave their homes,” Manal, a 24 year old Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteer told me. “It took them some time to adapt and start opening up to us. The activities helped them a lot in breaking their isolation and letting go of what they’ve been through.”

Maher, another energetic SARC volunteer told me how happy it makes him when he sees the children’s progress towards recovering. “It’s such a pleasure working with children, they give you so much love and look up to you,” he said. “We monitor children as closely as possible to evaluate their needs and plan activities accordingly. We learn so much from their resilience.”

Before the end of the mission, we all sat in a big circle and discussed the children’s hopes and dreams. Eleven-year-old Nagham said she wanted to be an interior designer when she grows up. “I want to make all houses look like my house back in Aleppo, or maybe like the Citadel of Aleppo,” she told me. Nagham practices her dream on cardboard. She makes tiny flower pots out of colored paper to put on the balconies, something she loved about the home she lost.

Little Seedra had stayed next to me the entire time. “I want to be a reporter when I grow up!” she jumped in. “I want to tell children everywhere what’s happening in Syria.”

I left the Sports City with so much hope for them and hope that we can do more. The conflict in Syria has caused more than 5 million children to live through horrific experiences, from loss of family members, friends, homes, education and basic services and separation from loved ones.  Psychosocial support is an important part of UNICEF’s work to provide children with the best care possible and help them overcome tremendous challenges and create a sense of normalcy.

UNICEF and its partners have reached more than 300,000 children across Syria since the beginning of the year through psychosocial support activities.  With more funds and successful partnerships, we can reach even more.

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