Since 2011, children have been paying the ultimate price in war torn Syria. Many children have known nothing but violence, death and destruction since they were born, and many have never even owned a toy or had the opportunity to play. Syrian children are struggling with the pain inflicted on them in this brutal time, physically and psychologically. A large number of children stopped going to school, and many had to assume adult responsibilities, such as working or raising younger siblings after losing one or both parents. Massive bombardment forced thousands of children from their homes throughout Syria, leaving everything behind…their memories…their belongings…their toys…
In November 2016, the UOSSM Protection program established Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), as an entry point to provide other specialized services such as rehabilitation and care for special needs children, case management with children and their families, and parenting skills, to strengthen relationships and interaction between children and their families. The centers are geared towards providing structured, sustained psychosocial support for internally displaced children. CFS centers provide a safe haven, filled with toys and educational games that allow children to play, learn and be carefree. Some of the activities provided in the centers are educational such as literacy and numeracy activities for children that dropped out of school, and other activities are recreational, such as games, sports, singing, drama and puppet-making, giving children an opportunity to express their feelings of fear and loss through creative play, stories and group interactions.
The Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) Program recognizes that arts and social activities can play a key role in helping provide psychosocial support for children affected by serious or chronic stress. Arts-based group activities, such as drawing, drama and music, are provided to help children process and communicate their feelings related to their personal experiences and to express themselves. Structured psychosocial support programs implemented in UOSSM’s Child Friendly Spaces help children feel less isolated, more connected to their peers, and safer among the trusted adults in their lives. This in turn can lead to a more confident and secure child, more likely to learn and cope with their situation.
Adolescent boys and girls participate in life skills to enhance their critical and creative thinking, decision making, problem solving, coping with emotions and stress, self-awareness and empathy, communication skills and interpersonal relations. This helps provide social cohesion among adolescent boys and girls in targeted areas.
The CFS program is an entry point to refer children at risk to specialized services. Currently, there are four Child Friendly Spaces throughout Northern Syria, each CFS center welcomes 3-4 groups of 10-15 children every day.
The ultimate goal is to integrate the CFS program into the education sector in Syria, this will become part of the “School Health” Program. Currently, the CFS program is in the process of expanding to have a CFS center in each of the 105 area schools in the two districts of Harem and Areeha in Northern Syria. Each five CFS centers will be under supervision of a psychosocial worker. The psychosocial worker will be trained on both protection and mental health and psychosocial support and will offer training to school staff. Educators will be trained in these issues as well as being provided with tools to detect any protection cases, which will then be referred to the Protection team. Once completed and implemented, this will be a powerful program where education, health, protection and MHPSS will all be integrated to serve students in schools ensuring children are protected, safe, and both physical and mentally healthy.