More then 35% Syrian children do not understand and recognize anything but war since birth; the older of whom is five years old and the younger has not yet been born; they witnessed, and lived, bombardment, destruction, starvation and siege; some of these children have also lost one or both of their parents, or, worse, saw the dead bodies of people who used to share their lives.
This situation was sufficient enough to predict psychological crises, which features started to appear on some of the Syrian children; these crises had to be contained before they turned into a humanitarian tragedy in a society that does not admit the need to spread the culture of psychological wellbeing, especially among children.
Children psychological centers started to impact the areas out of the regime’s control, which are witnessing a relative degree of stability in terms of civil life, especially in Daraa, al-Hasakah and some parts of Idlib.
Enab Baladi monitored a number of children psychological support centers inside Syria to shed a light on their work mechanisms and nature, as well as the difficulties they face and the changes they inspired since they began acting in the field of psychological support.
“Tofolati” In Qamishli Seeks a “Sound Generation”
The “Tofolati” Organization (My Childhood), specialized in children’s psychological support, offers its activities in the city of Qamishli, in Northern Syria, since 2014. It held the responsibility of releasing pressure and the war’s effects, which influenced the Syrian children’s psychological conditions for seven years now; it also included, among its goals, the protection of children and the initiation of a “sound” generation, whose mission is to build “sound” social communities within the country.
Yara, the Director of “Tofolati” Center, believes that children are the most vulnerable category in society, which had to pay the expenses of the adults’ war, pointing out, in her interview with Enab Baladi, that Syrian children are the most affected, psychologically and physically, after they lost sense of security, stability, a parent or both, and other relatives.
Concerning the difficulties that are facing children psychological support centers, the “Tofolati” Center’s Director said that they are financial obstacles, in the first place, which relate to donors, in addition to morale problems, including the lack of proficiency and specialists in the field of psychological health.
Yara indicated that the Syrian society’s missing interest in the importance of children’s psychological support, even that relating to adults, is handicapping these organizations, for, within the Syrian social circles, psychological support is still considered as an “entertainment,” viewed as mere games and recreational activities offered by organizations, regardless of their depth, according to what she said.
She added that children’s interaction with psychological support was adequate; “however, the parents’ response was not even close to the anticipated manner.”
As for the impact that “Tofolati” Center has effected, since its start, Yara said that “through our modest work as child-friendly center, we managed to inspire beautiful changes among children. We are happy with our work’s results so far, and we wish to offer more services to our children.”
“Tofolati” is not the only center specialized in children psychological support in the city of Qamishli, besides our Center there are other active local organizations, including “Smart” and “al-Ehssan,” as well as the psychological support campaigns, launched by “Save the Children” International Organization.
“Qabas” In Idleb: “Psychological Support is No Less Important than Education”
The city of Idlib has also incubated organizations specialized in offering psychological support to children, including “Qabas,” which shaped its goals as to indicate that spreading the culture of mental health within the Syrian society is no less important that education itself.
“Qabas’” Office’s Director in Idlib, Ahmad al-Khatib, told Enab Baladi that the organization is seeking to give children their lives back, the one they used to have prior to the war, by providing them with an atmosphere of security and safety, away from fear that became the Syrian children’s faithful companion since years.
Within the frame of its work, the organization allocated efforts to assign psychological counsellors in Idlib’s schools, whose mission is to provide children with support and advice, and helping them to stand on their own and sharpen, as well as develop their skills, according to al-Khatib.
The obstacles hindering “Qabas” in Idlib are not that different from the troubles that “Tofolati” Organization is coming over in the city of Qamishli, for the lacking resources, expertise and psychological specialists, formed a shared factor between the two organizations, which necessitates the need to prepare specialists in the fields of psychological support and consultancy, with help from international organizations.
Al-Khatib commented on another shared obstacle which is the weak response on the part of parents in relation to the importance of providing psychological support to their children, pointing out that their interaction is yet relative and depends on the parents’ intellectual background, as well as cultural environment, and the nature of each target area.
Through its work in Idlib, “Qabas” sensed a positive effect, it managed to achieve via enhancing behavior and self-confidence among children, who became knowledgeable of their rights and the need to demand them; the children also learned the skills of communication and dialogue, according to al-Khatib, who added that the most prominent effect was the children’s comprehension of the necessity for joining schools and perusing their education and time management in terms of studying.
“Olive Branch” in Daraa Aims to Bridge the Gap
In Daraa, the civil organizations, local councils and the directorates under the Syrian Interim Government seek to bridge the gaps created by the years of war in the southern governorate, in which civilians are witnessing a relative state of stability.
“Olive Branch” is one of the most prominent foundations that appeared in 2013 with volunteering efforts that show concern for the educational, social, psychological and behavioral process relating to children in Houran.
According to Mohammad Fares, Abu Majed, the Deputy-Director of education in the organization, the Organization’s interest in the field of psychological support aims to set children free from the atmosphere of war and conflict and to achieve an integration with education, as well as reaching a revival in their educational reality and future.
In a former interview with Enab Baladi, he said that “There are many programs, such as ‘I Deal,’ ‘Friendly Spaces’ and ‘Skills and Flexibility’ programs, in addition to other psychological support programs, which help children achieve a state of balance and makes them at a greater harmony with the educational process, and more capable of adapting to the circumstances that Syria is living under these happenings.”
Abu Majed said that the security situation in Houran and the fear form children from immediate targeting is the Organizations’ Officials’ major obsession, whether in the “Olive Branch” or any other center or organization, commenting, also, on the obstacles its team is facing, which form another obsession that lies in the lack of the resources and tools needed for educational and psychological support programs.
Despite the concrete efforts that the local organizations and centers are under taking inside Syria, they are still forced to overcome many obstacles imposed on them by the current circumstances in Syria, on top of which lies the problem of funding and lacking specialists, as well as awareness within the Syrian society in terms of the importance of offering psychological support to children, especially under the wake of war, which about four thousand children acknowledge as their own only reality, according to The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates.