Choose Happiness; Stay Hopeful: UNRWA Lebanon Brings Recreational Activities Home

20 December 2021
Students of the UNRWA Mazar School in north Lebanon receive their PSS kits. © 2021 UNRWA Photo by Maysoun Mustafa

Since schools closed in February 2020, UNRWA students have been almost exclusively learning from home and recreational and extracurricular activities have remained on hold. With prolonged periods of remote learning, children’s educational experiences and overall well-being have been profoundly impacted. While schools foster academic learning, they also nurture children’s social and emotional development. As we progress through the 2021-2022 scholastic year, children and families across Lebanon face mounting challenges as the spread of the Delta variant increases, the economy continues to collapse, thus further exacerbating families’ financial hardships, fuel becomes more scarce and electricity cuts more frequent.

The UNRWA Department of Education’s Psychosocial Support (PSS) Programme aims to improve the overall well-being of Palestine refugee children and ensure they are safe, protected, and nurtured. Since early 2020, children have been deprived of the opportunity to play, socially interact and engage with their peers and have missed out on opportunities for recreation due to lockdown measures. Furthermore, most families do not have the means to provide their children with recreational games or activities. In light of the increasing difficulties, age-appropriate, gender-neutral psychosocial recreational kits were distributed to students, including specific kits for children with special education needs. These kits have been provided to foster students’ psychosocial well-being and alleviate the impact of the shocks and stressors faced by children and their families during these trying times.

Maryam Zohny, UNRWA Education Coordinator, who manages the PSS programme and the work of the school counsellors describes the ‘PSS Kit’ as “a package of items for children and adolescents, consisting of cognitive and recreational games to strengthen self-expression and awareness, concentration and memory, sensory-motor and social skills, as well as provide opportunities for peer and family engagement. The kits aim to bring a positive change to children's lives, break the routine while at home, and help children and caregivers alike cope with the stressful circumstances and engage positively with each other at home.”

The kits, which are decorated with the slogan “Choose Happiness; Stay Hopeful” were distributed to over 32,000 Palestine refugee children in Lebanon in the 2020-2021 school year, and consisted of games such as scrabble, chess and hand-puppets, as well as mindfulness colouring books and arts and craft supplies, among others. The distribution of these kits was made possible thanks to the generous funding of the European Union and the Agence Française de Développement.

Beyond their benefits to children, the kits also provide relief to caregivers by giving their children constructive outlets for their energy and creativity, especially during long periods at home. While all children across Lebanon have been impacted by the situation in the country, Palestine refugees in Lebanon have been hit especially hard, with families facing significant financial, psychosocial and emotional distress and children being exposed to increased violence and protection risks.

Farah, whose daughter attends Marj Ben Amer school in Ein El Hilweh camp in Saida, says, “The kits are so nice! My daughter is very happy and so is her brother. The best thing about the kit is that the games are for sharing, for siblings to play together at home. This helps improve their cooperation and strengthens their love. They get to help each other and they develop their skills together. I loved the quality of the games and the descriptions included in the kit, which helped us understand the benefits of playing each game, i.e. this game focuses on this skill, this game helps to develop the child’s abilities in this area etc. The kits have put happiness in our children’s hearts.”

Following the distribution of the kits, UNRWA School Counsellors shared activities with students and caregivers to provide further guidance on how to creatively and effectively use the items in the kit at home together. Caregivers were encouraged to positively engage with their children in activities with the intention that playing together will help children and caregivers alike cope with the stress of daily life and engage positively together. All the while, the UNRWA PSS programme continues to carry out complementary interventions to support students’ well-being during this difficult time. Beyond the kits, school counsellors routinely conduct “Care Calls” to monitor student well-being, as well as conduct individual and group counselling, and awareness sessions with students and caregivers on a range of pertinent topics.