For more than four years, 11-year-old Sakeena has lived in the Bekaa Valley with her parents and eight siblings in a makeshift shelter made of a few wood beams and an assortment of tarps. An estimated 142,000 Syrian refugees are living in this area bordering Syria. More than half of them are children who have been out of school for more than two years. Sakeena’s father used to work on a nearby farm. When the war started, he moved his family from Syria to live in the Bekaa Valley and they stay there in limbo as the war continues. “If God let the war end tomorrow, we would walk barefoot back home,” Sakeena’s mother laments.
Sakeena attends a summer camp run by the Congregation of our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd Sisters and supported by Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The Sisters have been working with Syrian refugee children and their families with educational activities and emergency relief since the conflict in Syria started in 2011. They provide educational support so that children can learn, play, and heal in a safe environment.
The camp contains a puppetry project to help children deal with their emotions. Children watch films that reflect their cultural context and star puppet characters that deliver messages of peace building and dealing with trauma. The films are paired with activities like puppet-making and drawing. Trained animators work with the children and use their reflections on the films to gain their trust and to draw them out of their shells. By discussing the characters’ emotions and actions the children are often taking the first steps toward addressing their own trauma.
“The children relate to puppets as if they were human beings,” Sister Micheline says. “this method is very good because it helps them talk about feelings, which they usually can’t talk about easily.”
Sakeena says she plays with her gray cloth puppet at home and at school. For Sakeena’s mom, the support her children get through the Good Shepherd Sisters lifts up everyone in the household. “They come back more relaxed because they have an opportunity to leave the stress of the house. They are happy,” Turfa says. “We want to thank the Good Shepherd Sisters for helping with everything. We feel like we’ve been welcomed here. We feel cared for and safe.”
Nikki Gamer for CRS, November 2015 (adapted)