“Don’t I have a right to play?”
The 1.1 million Syrians who have fled across the border in Lebanon may have escaped the fighting at home, but their lives here are far from easy. A new set of difficulties accompany exile, as refugees struggle to find work and adequate housing, cope with the psychological consequences of the crisis, or access education. Over 53 per cent of the Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon are children, who have been affected by their experiences of conflict and exile most profoundly.
This World Refugee Day, children and their families in Qobayat, northern Lebanon, took part in daylong activities that highlighted refugee experiences and brought the Lebanese and Syrian communities together.
World Refugee Day, marked annually on 20 June, highlights the year-round struggles faced by the forcibly displaced around the world. This year’s World Refugee Day was an especially somber occasion as the UNHCR revealed that the number of forcibly displaced people is at its highest since the end of World War II. By the end of 2013, more than 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced, half of whom were children. The spike (up from 45.2 million in 2012) was mainly was driven by the war in Syria.
Despite the grim statistic, the activities in Qobayat gave children, parents and family members an opportunity to have fun for a few hours. Children voiced their experiences of displacement and hopes for the future through dance and theatre. They goofed around with a clown, sang songs and competed at games like apple bobbing.
Caption: Children hold up signs made for a skit they performed at World Refugee Day activities in Qobayat, Northern Lebanon.The signs read (from left to right): 'Is it not the right of the child to live in freedom and security?', 'Is it not the right of the child to live in security?', 'Is it not the right of the child to learn?', 'Is it not the right of the child to play?', and 'Is it not the right of the child to grow healthy?' Photo: Brant Stewart/Save the Children.
Over fives hundred children and adults from Syrian and Lebanese host communities attended the celebrations organized by Save the Children and UNCHR, which were kicked off by a troupe of drummers dedicating their performance to their mothers. One short play highlighted the hospitality of Lebanon’s host communities; another highlighted child rights that were being denied due to conflict. “I want to be in school and graduate from university”, Moataz* told the audience. “Isn’t it our right to learn?”
With evidence pointing to a growing number of refugees skipping meals and choosing cheaper and less nutritious food to feed their families, proper nutrition remains a concern for many Syrians in Lebanon. A troupe of children highlighted the need for nutritious meals through a short skit urging healthy eating habits. Forming a rainbow of healthy foods by in their apple, banana, orange, strawberry and milk costumes, the children spoke of the benefits of fruits and vegetables. “Eating too much chocolate will give you a toothache,” warned Sana, clutching her cheek. “Fruit and vegetables contain a lot of vitamins,” added her fellow actor Ziad.
The day’s fun culminated with a delicious – and healthy – lunch prepared by Syrian and Lebanese women.
*All names have been changed.