Standing Together to Combat Bullying in UNRWA Schools

24 March 2021
An UNRWA student records a voiceover for antibullying animated videos, as part of the Agency's Addressing Violence Affecting, and Involving, Children (“AVAC”) initiative. © 2021 UNRWA Photo

UNRWA is committed to ensuring that children are safe, protected and heard within schools and other UNRWA installations and the community at large. The Agency joined the international community in the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and launched its own Agency-wide Addressing Violence Affecting, and Involving, Children (“AVAC”) initiative in 2016. The AVAC initiative fosters an enabling environment for children to live dignified lives, and advocates against violence against children — in all its forms. Across the Agency’s five fields, the AVAC initiative works across UNRWA departments to actively engage partners, families and the wider community. In Lebanon in particular, the Education Department has implemented a number of interventions to make schools safer and mainstream child protection in schools and beyond.

One of the core issues targeted by the UNRWA Education Department is bullying. Studies show that one in three students has been bullied by peers in school at least once.[1] Each year, UNRWA schools implement “Standing Together to Stop Bullying Day” on February 21 to further highlight this issue. This day is organized as part of the Human Rights Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) project. Through a human rights based approach, school staff, including principals, human rights teachers and school counsellors, engage students, parents and the larger school community, through a variety of activities including plays, public forums, and/or debates; holding silent processions or walks in the camps; circulating messaging and awareness videos through social media and more. This year, events were implemented remotely due to the closure of schools. Activities entailed a live discussion on bullying, a virtual recreational event, as well as awareness sessions.

This activity supported students in learning more about bullying and its effects, as well as how to address it. Sally Al Mayari, a student at STC, explains, “I became better able to deal with situations I face and interact with others, and [learned] not to be silent about bullying.”

Additionally, UNRWA recognizes and appreciates the instrumental role that schools play in engaging with both parents and children on the topic of tackling violence. This is why the Psychosocial Support (PSS) programme adopts a three-pronged approach to address issues of violence and foster an enabling environment where children are safe and protected. This approach targets students, caregivers and the wider community. Through individual counselling and awareness sessions, children and caregivers alike become mindful of their behaviours, thought-patterns, and triggers. Through Parenting Skills sessions, caregivers become sensitized to their children’s social and emotional needs, as well as adopt strategies to manage their children’s behaviour and improve their well-being. Moreover, through community events and advocacy projects, counsellors create a space for community members, the school, caregivers and local actors to collectively reflect, discuss, and strategize on child protection-related issues.

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has shifted learning and interaction to digital spaces, cyber-bullying has also become a growing issue, with evidence showing a strong connection and continuum between offline and online bullying. In order to address cyber-bullying, as well as bullying and violence in general, the Agency’s Education Department in Lebanon, with the support of the Protection Unit tackled this issue in a new way this year.

In partnership with Dawaer and UNICEF, UNRWA in Lebanon created an 11-part animated video series through the active participation and engagement of 71 members of the Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), and 262 young people from student parliaments and Siblin Training Centre (STC). A number of videos in this series focus particularly on bullying and stigmatization in relation to COVID-19. The videos target children, youth, teachers and caregivers and provide practical tools to help people address bullying wherever they find it. The videos were widely disseminated to school and camp groups through WhatsApp, as well as other social media platforms. Elham Abu Arisha, a Nursery Education student at STC, describes her experience taking part in the creation of these videos: ”Through the activity, we created video clips, which are like short awareness films, about how a person deals with such situations of bullying. We focused on the type of bullying that people infected by Corona face, and how to support them in a gentle and considerate manner. We also addressed verbal and physical bullying, cyber-bullying and domestic violence.”

To ensure continuity in raising awareness and promoting tolerance and acceptance in schools and the community, the student parliaments and the PTAs were supported to develop an annual work plan with concrete actions and activities around bullying and violence prevention to be implemented throughout the year.

The Education Department has made and will continue to make significant strides in raising awareness about violence against children, and particularly bullying in schools. As the economic, political, and health conditions in Lebanon continue to deteriorate and families face greater levels of profound stress, we call on all persons to join us in our efforts to promote children’s safety and well-being, and actively make our communities safer for all.