A daily trip to safety
There is something missing in the few yards Samer* will travel to join his friends in the nearby tent today. The encouraging voice of his brother will no more be there to cheer him up. Bilal died in a car crash last night.
The newly-graduated History student had just left the factory where he worked when a vehicle ran him over outside the building. A few months ago, he survived shelling on his town in Syria before fleeing with his family to seek refuge in Lebanon.
The tragedy has deprived Samer of not only a big brother, but also a dear friend.
‘’Bilal’s death badly affected his brother,’’ said Samer’s father Jihad*, sitting on a chair in the narrow entrance of his tent, one of dozens of tents constructed to shelter thousands of refugees in the informal settlement.
‘’He misses him so much, and that’s because they were together all the time.’’
Overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness, Samer’s psychological trauma complicated a physical pain he has been living with all his life. At the age of six, Samer was a boy who has already seen more than he should.
‘’Samer was born with a disability,’’ Jihad revealed as he tried to contain a tone of desperation.
‘’He had spina bifida that impeded his natural growth. He underwent a surgery and we would consistently go see the neurologist. But even physiotherapy wouldn’t help.’’
The hardest part in dealing with the aftermath of the heartbreak was yet to come. Samer became isolated and would refuse to leave his house or talk to anyone. Further deterioration in his physical and psychological condition was a prospect his parents most dreaded.
But the same path that Samer used to take on his wheelchair returned to provide a silver lining. A Child-Friendly Space in the settlement became his new emotional refuge, and his own parents’ hope of a new start.
Opened at one of the tents by Save the Children Lebanon’s Child Protection team in the Bekaa Valley, the space represents a sanctuary where children from across the settlement gather to engage in a range of special activities and express their feelings without any fear or restriction.
It was a massive boost for Samer.
‘’His psychological state has improved a lot,’’ Jihad reassured, with a sigh of relief. ‘’He now takes part in the activities with the other kids. He plays and sings and comes to tell me what he did at Save the Children’s tent all day.’’
‘’I am happy that he gets to learn something useful.’’
Samer is one of 350 vulnerable refugee children who attend Save the Children’s safe spaces across Lebanon, supported by the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM). Their ultimate journey to safety might take a while yet; however, their basic right to protection is certainly cemented with the journey they make to the safety tent each morning.
*Names have been changed for protection purposes.