The seven-year conflict in Syria has left its mark on the entire country, but for Palestine refugees, already one of the most vulnerable groups in society, before the conflict, have been amongst the worst affected. Many Palestine refugee children have lost their homes and in some cases a family member as well. Many have experienced displacement, trauma, intense fear and disruption to their normal lives. "The psychological effects of the prolonged Syrian conflict have been devastating for many of those affected. Children are especially vulnerable. Child labour and child marriage have substantially increased since the conflict began,” explained Ghedran Najem, a UNRWA psychosocial support (PSS) counsellor at the Rashid Muhy Eddin school in Damascus.
UNRWA is committed to providing quality, inclusive education to all Palestine refugee children. Providing psychosocial support is a key element of its education provision in all UNRWA schools, but psychosocial support becomes even more important in times of emergency and it is a crucial part of the UNRWA Education in Emergencies programme. Psychosocial support (PSS) counsellors are now in place in all UNRWA school in Syria to promote positive coping mechanisms amongst the children and help build the resilience of children and the broader Palestine refugee community.
Regular professional development is key to ensuring that UNRWA PSS counsellors have the skills to enable them to help children to thrive despite the difficult reality in which they live, and to continue to learn and have hope for the future. “We need to understand the children’s environment and the challenges they face. The training offered by UNRWA prepared us for the challenges involved and provided knowledge and tools to perform our role effectively,” said PSS counsellor Dima Dannan, working at the Agency’s Mahmoud Yousef Issa school in Damascus.
Dina was one of 54 UNRWA PSS counsellors who gathered for a workshop at UNRWA Damascus Training Centre on 1 May 2018. The workshop aimed to strengthen the capacity of counsellors in identifying and responding to the protection and psychosocial needs of UNRWA students in Syria. The participants examined various protection issues, including child marriage, child labour, child abuse and exploitation, and gender-based violence. All of these have been on the rise due to the protracted conflict in Syria.
"Psychosocial support is about helping individuals cope with and overcome difficult situations. Through UNRWA training I was introduced to the key concepts and principles of psychosocial support," Mohammad Khalil Toumeh, a PSS Counsellor said. “I learned a number of techniques that helped me raise the awareness of the community on how to support children at home." Such techniques focus on building the resilience of Palestine refugee children to maintain hope for the future despite their experiences.
Generous funding from the Government of Belgium has enabled UNRWA to reach more students in UNRWA schools with much-needed psychosocial support by hiring additional PSS counsellors, as well as building the capacity of new and existing ones.
Students say they can feel the difference. "During the psychosocial support sessions, we feel comfortable because the PSS Counsellors allow us to share our own ideas and problems and they listen carefully to us. We can share our worries with them as well,” explains Reenas Husein, a 7th-grade student at UNRWA Yarmouk School in Qabr Essit refugee camp, and chair of the student parliament at her school. “We enjoy the psychosocial support activities like group play, sports, art and drawing. I always tell my friends to join the psychosocial support activities,” she added.