Since the beginning of Iraqi war, many families have fled to Syria seeking safety and stability. While some families adjusted to the new lifestyle quickly, some others faced difficulties. When speaking about these difficulties we need to mainly focus on children who have been affected physiologically, and sometimes physically, by the war. As an attempt to support the psychological and physical behaviors of these Iraqi children and to help them recover from their struggle and surpass their fears and worries, UNHCR –Syria approached the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East in Damascus (GOPA) to provide Summer Camp program.
Summer Camp is a seven week program (four days each week) held in St. John the Damascene School, located in Al-Assaa area, and includes a variety of activities such as: sport, paint, handcraft, behavioral guidance, health and environmental awareness in addition to a trip in the end of the camp to an amusement park. These activities aim to strengthen the children’s self-esteem and embrace their talents so they can interact with others and understand the new society and living conditions.
Each week of the camp includes the following:
First three days of each week maintain the same flow of activities. Every day started with morning exercise followed by healthy breakfast then continues with painting, handcraft and acrobats then ends with a lecture which varies from day to another.
The lecture of the first day is on behavior guidance and mainly focused on strengthen the children’s self-esteem to help them realize their important role in life. War had negative effects on the children especially in their communication skills. Most children attended the program were shy and had problems with introducing themselves, expressing their opinion, interacting with other children and presenting an idea. This lecture taught them how to network, share information and connect with others from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
Second day’s lecture is on health awareness and first aid. Doctors educated the children on the importance of health and how to keep our homes and selves clean. Dr. Hadeel has also explained basic information on first aid and taught the children how to take care of themselves in case of emergency such as: nose bleeding, simple wounds, burns, broken bones, etc…
Third day’s lecture is on environmental awareness. It includes watching short films on the topic which explains to children how small efforts can make differences. On the same day, children are also asked to plant a small tree in a can they design themselves to train them to take care of plants and watering them.
For handcrafting, children were asked to make 4 main objects; a future house, a bag, a can and a porcelain figure. Future houses get glowed together on one board to help children vision a better and a colorful future. The bag is customized by the children to motivate them use paper bags instead of plastic bags to help the environment. The cans are designed by the children to keep their plants in them before placing them in the garden. The porcelain figures help the children to be creative and motivate them to reflect their imagination in the shape which they color after it dries.
On the fourth day, buses took the children to amusement parks. The park was chosen according to the security situation; Al-Faihaa Park in Dummar, Oskar Park in Jaramana and Malki Mall in Al-Malki. In the park, the children were able to play games and rides and end the week with laughter and good memories.
The camp had positive impact on the children during this stressful period. Participants came from different places and different faith affiliations which promoted integration among different clusters of Iraqi and Syrian societies; Children were able to interact and learn about each other's cultures in addition to the opportunity they were granted to embrace their talents, make new friends and educate themselves. Parents of participants were able to demonstrate improvement in children's talents and behavior skills which can help in overcoming of their stress and trauma.