Watching Reitag, 4, and Hadi, 5, concentrate on making paper snowmen seems an almost charmed scene. But for these kids and the 23 other young Palestine refugees in their group, their short lives have been anything but charmed. Instead, they’ve been marked by the unimaginable horrors and the sudden displacements of the conflict in Syria, which is nearly as old as they are.
These kids, among the displaced refugees now in a collective shelter in the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Damascus Training Centre, in Mazzeh, are too young for school, as Um Hadi points out. That means “they not only have limited activities, but also don’t have access to an important protection tool and source of psychosocial support.”
An arts and crafts class might seem small, but ask Reitag’s mother how important it is. She says that because she sent her daughter to the class, “She looks so healthy and fresh, not like before. The activities helped children bond with their peers. My daughter loved every minute of her time here.” Especially when the natural caregivers, the parents, are struggling with displacement and other hardships, the class is an important source of support.
In fact, this class isn’t just helping its little students. It’s also helping the young women teaching them. For them, this is on-the-job experience for a preschool-instructors training course. Part of the UNRWA Engaging Youth project, funded by the European Union, the course gives young Palestine refugee women professional, specialized experience in early-childhood care and education.
With the ongoing conflict devastating livelihoods and opportunities, this training is vital. According to one participant, Hazar Yahya, it’s also “very exciting to have the opportunity to attend the preschool-instructors training course, introduced by the Engaging Youth project.” She is one of 22 young Palestine refugees enrolled in the four-month course. Its comprehensive curriculum includes theory and strategies based on the philosophy and methodology of Dr. Maria Montessori. “It is innovative and challenging to obtain the ‘Foundation of Early Childhood Practice’ certificate,” Hazar continues. “It will increase our chances of working in nursery or day-care centres.”
Activities focus on helping children develop behavioural, emotional and social skills, while supporting teachers working with children whose development in these areas is causing concern. Another participant, Rawan Abdul Wahab, says: “I really enjoy this training. I am already involved in youth work and am now considering working in a school. The course has helped me introduce new techniques with the displaced children to gain more experience and confidence in my work, and I have also noticed an improvement in the children’s behaviour.”
The Engaging Youth project isn’t just letting kids make snowmen. It’s giving training and opportunities to young Palestine refugees, and they, in turn, teach the very youngest how to make snowmen, how to play with each other – and also how to trust again, how to smile again, how to laugh again.