A breathing space in a long, hard day
‘’Togetherness means different minds and cultured spirits.’’
On an oval-shaped cardboard inside one of the classrooms, these words are inscribed. The handwriting is that of a child, probably a group of children. The message, for them, is clear: ‘’We are together. Friends.’’
The children come to this child protection centre in Tripoli to learn, sing, paint and share their stories in role-play games. There is something in common between them; they all are, or were, working children.
Funded by Johnson & Johnson, the activities are part of the Protection of Children in Harmful Work project, run by Save the Children and implemented by Beyond Association in Tripoli. The aim is to stop all forms of child labour and bring out-of-school children back to classrooms.
Maya Al Ghoul, Save the Children’s Child Protection Senior Programme Manager, says, ‘’The project offers a comprehensive intervention that tackles the wellbeing and protection of working children, awareness-raising for caregivers and advocacy work with employers to ensure appropriate working conditions for children.’’
The programme is carried out under the supervision and monitoring of the Child Labour Unit at the Lebanese ministry of labour and in consultation with the International Labour Office. So far, 200 working children of all ages have been reached, of whom nearly 80 have been helped to go back to school.
Jad*, 15, has just finished a group exercise to discuss what working children go through. For a child forced to sacrifice school for work, it is not too difficult to know how dangerous it is.
‘’I used to work as a street vendor,’’ says the 15-year-old. ‘’Selling fresh juice before I moved to work in washing cars with my father.
‘’I stopped after one year. I don’t want to stay out of school anymore. It is a mistake for children to leave education. I always try to advise children who want to leave school in order to work. I tell them ‘’don’t do it.’’’
Children are encouraged to innovate and contribute at this centre. Special focus is dedicated to the physical and psychological wellbeing of the children. Mental health is also an integral part given special effort and time.
Ghoussoun Yaghi, Coordinator at the Beyond Centre, says, ‘’Tailored exercises help us measure children’s progress. These children, who have been engaged in child labour or traumatised in conflict, realise they have dreams like all other children.’’
Jad knows what he wants to be in the future. Entering the hospitality sector and becoming a famous chef would be a unique dream come true. He knows that the only way to achieve this is by returning to where he should be; a classroom.
*Names have been changed for protection purposes