Hope when all seems lost

Since the Syrian conflict erupted ten years ago, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has worked tirelessly to protect and assist the most vulnerable – both within Syria, and in its neighbouring countries.

NRC is one of the few humanitarian organisations working across the whole of Syria. We have delivered tents and essential household items in emergencies, repaired schools and homes, and provided learning opportunities to out-of-school children and young people.

As the conflict has evolved, we have adapted our response to continue meeting the needs of displaced Syrians and the communities that host them. In this time, we have witnessed the strength and courage of the Syrian people first-hand as families support one another and try to reclaim some hope for the future.

Here are some of their stories.

Read caption Malak helps her younger siblings deal with their psychological stress, which has only increased following the closure of the schools and the camp due to Covid-19. Photo: Dan Wheeler/NRC

JORDAN: A mobile lifeline for Malak, 14

When the coronavirus pandemic struck and their school closed, the family’s only mobile phone became a lifeline for Malak, 14, and her seven siblings.

Only 12 days after the first case of Covid-19 was detected in Jordan, the authorities closed all schools in the country. Shortly afterwards, Zaatari refugee camp was also locked down.

More than 76,000 Syrian refugees were literally locked in, with no possibility of leaving the camp. At the same time, a large number of teachers and humanitarian aid workers were unable to enter the camp to work.

“Many families are deeply concerned about their children. We are doing our best to keep in touch with the children and their parents, but it’s hard when families lack both stable internet access and mobile phones,” said Noor Elkhairy, educational adviser with NRC.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, NRC has been working around the clock to ensure that refugee children and youth can exercise their right to quality education.

Read the full story here.

Her family fled to Lebanon from their home in Syria after being caught up in the war there, in 2013.

They moved into their current tent in 2006.Thanks to wood supplied by NRC, the family have been able to double the size of their home since they first bought it from its previous tenant. NRC also supplied and maintains toilets in their settlement, supplies water for drinking and washing, hygiene kits and waterproofing materials.  

Photo: Sam Tarling/NRC
Read caption Fatima refuses to let living in a tent dampen her family’s spirits. Photo: Sam Tarling/NRC

LEBANON: How Fatima transformed her tent into a family home

Using materials supplied by NRC, Fatima Toumas and her family have now been able to double the size of their home. NRC has also provided toilets in Fatima’s settlement, as well as water for drinking and washing, hygiene kits, and waterproofing materials in preparation for the winter storms.

“I want to change things so that if I look around, I don’t think ‘this wall is very depressing’. This plant pot, for example: it’s very simple, but when I look at it, I feel happier,” says Fatima.

If anyone can make a shelter into a home, it’s Fatima. Despite missing her original home in Syria deeply, she does everything she can to bring colour and warmth into the tent her family shares.

Read the full story here.

Yousef lives nearby the centre with his mother, father and brother. They have lived in Lebanon for five years after fleeing Syria because of the war. 

Talking about the August 4th explosion at Beirut port:  “We were at home when the explosion happened. My mother was sitting outside, my father was sleeping. We were on the bed, we heard the explosion, we went outside then we lay down. I was terrified.”
“The glass all broke, and the washing machine broke too. Also the bed and the closet broke. One window in the kitchen was not broken.
We slept at home

On The NRC lesson:
The activities were, the sun and the mountain, and drawing, also we learned about the brain. The activity which I liked most is the sun and the mountain because it makes me feel happy. I had fun, yes I had fun, also I was happy 

Interview with Yousef

*Youssef how did you know about NRC?
I saw you every day, and then my mom told me that she registered me in NRC
*For how long you have been in NRC?
Two days 
*How often do you come?
Every Tuesday and Thursday
*What kind of activities  do you do in NRC center, would you please tell me?
Mountain and sun
*What does  Mountain and Sun mean? 
About the brain 

We painted, and they taught us about the brain.
*What did you learn about the brain?
When we are happy or sad 
*What do we do when we are happy?
We enjoy 
It feels sad 
*Which activity you liked most?
Sun and mountain. 
Why did you like it most?
*Because they made me happy. 
Do you enjoy when you do the mountain and the sun’s activity?
*Youssef, do you practice the mountain and the sun activity at home?
I learned it today. 
*If you learned today, so what are you going to do when you return home?
The sun and the mountain activity.
*Do you have siblings; are they older or younger than you?
A brother, he is younger than me. 
*Did you fight with him, or have you been angry from each other one day?
It never happened. 
*Do you practice at home what do you learn at the center, to help you feel more satisfy? 
*Like what?
*Exactly, how do we breathe?
*Good, what else do you do among the activities that you have learned in the center?
Just those. 
*Youssef, how did you feel when you participated in the activities of NRC center?
I enjoyed it. 
*Why did you enjoy it?
Because they make me enjoy it. 

Interview with Social emotional support facilitator Chadi Zein:
You saw how the boy participated, he was great, he reached his limit, then he moved to another place. 
We wasted time on behavior issues during the last class.
Today it worked out because I made an intensive lesson about the content of the last lesson and the safe zone, because it was the occasion of prophet’s birthday, I had to do it intensive. 
These activities are one of the most important things that students must learn, not only in difficult times and in the occurrence of disasters and problems. This type of classes should be practice in every school around the world in order to achieve peace in the world. 
Because these activities, which they learn in these classes, allow them to discover what is happening deep inside them, and how they feel when something is happening or if they are thinking about an idea, if that idea is preferred or not, and what can I do for similar thoughts.
They are learning emotional intelligence, the feelings  and the thoughts, that’s means, what I can do when I am scared or sad or angry, should I let it control me and makes me tired and sick, or I manage it in a better way by reducing it and choose what is happening inside me.
He is like a farmer who cultivates his land, he doesn’t leave the weed in his land, but he removes them. The children respond wonderfully in this context.
First of all I ask them, I know when I ask a child how did you feel before and after the activities, from time to time and according to the design of BLB, you have to ask the child: how did you feel, did you do the exercises at home or not, and what did you feel after doing the exercises? He distinguishes where he feels.
For example, this is the scale of feelings, before coming to the center, the children don’t know what they are feeling, and a child lives a state but doesn’t think about it. 
As soon as he arrives in the center he learns how to think, if he is very happy or a little bit happy or a bit sad or very sad, or angry, then he learns that the feelings are normal things, they move like an ocean wave. 
Sometimes, some events cause stress, what I should do to be relieved, so that these events do not disturb me much. What I should do to reduce it. They learn all of this here.
It changes their lives in certain point, I know that this thing has happened in concrete terms from what they say and they tell you.
For example I have three students in one class they are brothers, once the old brother saw his other brothers fighting, he remembered that when they get angry they can do the deep breathing and use other tools, he reminded them of that but they didn’t listen to him, he went to a safe zone and relieved, then he went in the room, he saw his brothers paintings together and stopped fighting, they were communicating between each other.
That’s because all of them used the tools that they learned here, and they used them in their daily life, without need to anybody to remind them of these tools, they remember themselves so they feel more comfortable. 
Because of that, all the children must learn these type of exercises and tools, to be more satisfied and to have a valuable relationship between them and their friends, their teachers and their parents, this relationship should not be built on violence or anger etc.. But built on controlling the feelings and thoughts and to communicate through relations in a comfortable environment, which contains more dialogue.
Also it effects positively on their grades, as well as on everything they do. You asked me how do I know that. At the end of the course we speak with the parents, I ask them, did you see a progress, and they say yes we can feel a concrete progress   
The explosion in Beirut has affected all of us, as adults, in our works and activities, all of us are vulnerable to trauma. It was a trauma for everyone, it was a near-death experience, and we were almost being hurt. If it affected us like this, how did it affect children? The children are fresh dewy buds; definitely they were affected by the explosion. 
Someone thinks that a cloud is an explosion, another when he hears a loud sound, he thinks it is an explosion, and another if he sees smoke he thinks it is an explosion. It exists in their daily life and makes them worried, a part from what they saw, and some children saw very terrifying scenes. 
Sometimes the children speak about it. In the class we respect the privacy of the child, so we don’t ask the child to tell us what has happened to him. 
When we work on the events which cause stress, we mention the war and the explosion, which are among other events which happen.
There are children tell you, for example, if we do the breathing exercise or another exercise and said that it relieves us, sometimes a child come and tell you that he had pieces of glass in his leg,  or he was injured, every child spontaneously tells us, I don’t go through details with him but I continue the lesson, this thing is heard and drawn.
A child drew the explosion, I am not sure if it still here, some of them draws the explosion, everyone expresses using his style.
There are children have nightmares, other children can’t sleep, other children don’t want to go out of the house because they are afraid of an explosion.
By the way, they are the same symptoms that adults have them, everybody has the same symptoms. The explosion thundered… he is just a little child… we want to say that for all humans the explosion caused trauma for everyone.
Read caption Drawing is a technique used at NRC’s education centre to help children process their trauma following the explosion. Photo: Zaynab Mayladan/NRC

LEBANON: The road to healing for Beirut's children

On 4 August 2020, a huge explosion devastated Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. With broken glass and debris covering the streets and thousands of homes destroyed, the blast terrified many residents. None more so than the city’s children.

Yousef Sarhan is a 10-year-old Syrian refugee living in Beirut. He and his family were at home when the explosion happened.

“My mother was sitting outside. My father was sleeping,” recalls Yousef. “Me and my brother were on the bed when we heard the explosion. We ran outside and lay down on the ground. I was terrified.”

For children like Yousef, who live close to where to explosion took place, the impact was very real. Some children have had nightmares and been unable to sleep. Some feel stressed and scared that another explosion might take place.

Yousef is one of hundreds of children who are taking part in the Norwegian Refugee Council’s psychosocial support classes. The classes were set up as a response to the explosion and are designed to help children deal with trauma and stressful situations.

Read the full story here.

Reem, 15, is from Deir EZ-Zur and is currently living in the governorate of Rural Damascus. 
Reem and her family were forced to flee their home in Deir Ez-Zur and, as a result, has been out of school for five years. 
She enrolled in NRC's “Education Pathway – Transition” programme and after just two months, she was back at school once again.

Photo:  Tareq Mnadili/NRC
Read caption Reem, 15, is from Deir ez-Zur and is currently living in the governorate of Rural Damascus. Photo: Tareq Mnadili/NRC

SYRIA: What it means to go to school

As children around the world began a new academic year, Reem, 15, and Yasmine, 14, returned to school after years of missing out. When we met them, they reflected on what it meant to them to be able to rejoin their friends at long last.

“I used to feel very jealous, seeing my friends go to school when I couldn’t. There was no school for me to go to. Back then it was my dream to be one of them, on my way to school,” says Reem.

Reem and her family were forced to flee their home in Deir ez-Zur. As a result, she has been out of school for five years. NRC works with children like Reem, who have missed out on learning due to war and displacement, to get them back on track with their education.

Our education programme helps out-of-school children aged between six and 14 develop the knowledge, skills and attitude they need to reconnect with formal education and continue their learning journey.

Read the full story about Reem and her school here.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) provides free Information and Counselling Legal Assistance (ICLA) services to Syrian refugees in across the country on a yearly basis, to support them in dealing primarily with civil documentation (birth, marriage, divorce and death registration), legal residency, employment rights, and housing, land and property (HLP) rights.

As part of the response, NRC reached out to Hassan under a consortium project together with International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Humanity Inclusion (HI), through support from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Department Office.

“A few months/weeks ago, NRC visited us and provided information on legal assistance. “NRC then referred us to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) because my daughters were born in Hermel and it falls under their area of work to register their birth but NRC helped me obtain a marriage certificate,” Hassan explains. 

“I met with a lawyer who processed the paperwork, then I signed them and it was done. It was very comfortable and the process was very easy. Now when the borders will open, I can send my family to Syria without any legal problems,” Hassan says. “I am beyond happy with how NRC helped me,” says Hassan.

Photo: Zaynab Mayladan/NRC
Read caption Hassan El Mosmar, 35, with one of his four daughters. He is one of thousands of Syrian fathers whose children were born in Lebanon but who was not able to register the births. Photo: Zaynab Mayladan/NRC

LEBANON: Hassan’s daughters can finally cross the border

“I always worried because I knew that if I ever decided to go back to Syria I wouldn’t be able to take them with me,” says Hassan of his four daughters.

He is one of thousands of Syrians whose children were born in Lebanon but who was not able to register the births.

These children may have problems accessing services such as education, healthcare, legal support or humanitarian assistance if they return to Syria in future.

Children without complete birth certificates can also be prevented from travelling. If families do return to Syria, it can be challenging for them to update their records, because their documents need to be finalised in Lebanon first.

NRC provides free information, counselling and legal assistance services to approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon each year. We support them primarily in dealing with civil documentation (birth, marriage, divorce and death registration), legal residency, employment rights, and housing, land and property (HLP) rights.

Read the full story here.