By Masoud Hasen
Al- Hasakah, 1 August, 2016– “I love to learn but I don’t want to go to school,” said 13 year-old Roj who has been diagnosed with autism, fearful of the difficulty he will face trying to fit in with his peers.
While Roj completed his education up until Grade 6, he has been out of school for a year. He felt discouraged by the challenges he faced keeping up with children his age and adapting to the new educational level. When his older sister – who used to care for him and take him to school – got married, confronting these challenges just seemed that much harder.
Stuck at home, away from school and social interaction with other children, Roj was losing even more confidence and the ability to cope.
Two months ago he started attending a UNICEF-supported children’s centre, where he plays with other children and participates in activities designed to help him improve.
“Coming to the child-friendly space saved Roj,” said Losine, a manager on the UNICEF-supported psychosocial support programme.
“He has benefited from all the programmes. He engages better with his peers, he has developed his language and skills, and you can see his overall well-being has improved,” she added.
UNICEF supports three child-friendly spaces in al-Hasakah in eastern Syria, each welcoming around 200 boys and girls. The centres offer sports and recreational activities designed for different ages for boys and girls – including dancing, singing, painting, games, arts and crafts and theatre. All the activities are designed to help children like Roj, as well as those affected by the conflict, to better integrate into society.
Roj has a talent for music and he plays the violin very well. He is also an excellent painter of portraits and cartoon characters.
“I have played the violin since I was nine. My father bought me a violin and taught me beautiful pieces by Beethoven,” said Roj.
At the centre, volunteers encourage Roj to play the violin and show his talent in painting, helping Roj build his self-esteem and feeling of self-worth.
Roj also receives specialized weekly care by a personal supervisor at the centre to help him develop his social and communication skills.
An obstacle which Roj has had to overcome as he mixes with his peers has been language. Unable to speak his mother tongue and the common language in his area, Kurdish, Roj learned formal Arabic at a centre for children with autism as a child, and continued to use it throughout his studies.
At the UNICEF-supported centre, volunteers are teaching Roj colloquial Arabic to help him communicate more easily with his peers.
“We are also trying to help him speak for longer periods. Right now, Roj gets bored easily and will only hold a conversation for 10 minutes,” said Losine who follows-up Roj’s improvement on daily basis.
In a very short time, Roj formed a group of friends at the centre. He often plays pieces he learnt on the violin for them and has his beautiful paintings hung on the walls of the centre.
Volunteers have watched Roj grow in his interaction and communication with other children. He welcomes visitors to the centre and is always eager to explain the characters and meanings hidden in his paintings. He also lets visitors choose the musical piece they would like to hear him play.
“Our next goal is to encourage Roj to return to school, either alone or with a companion, because he wants to continue his education,” added Losine.
“While I love Beethoven and music so much, my dream is to be an architect when I grow up,” said Roj.