Give a child a good environment to be in and they are likely to respond. That is what SKILD, Beirut Baptist School (BBS) and Wellspring found in the summer camp they ran together this July.

While there are other special needs camps in Lebanon, the SKILD Summer Camp is truly inclusive in character, intergrating special needs children with their friends so they can take part in activities together. Around 43 children attended this year’s camp held at BBS’s campus from 2 July to 3 August, 12 of whom have special needs and are already supported by either SKILD or BBS. Senior BBS students and leaders from Wellspring led the camp activities which included arts and crafts, sports, drama, music, dance and “huddle time”, when all the children listened to a story containing a message they could learn from.

SKILD therapists and staff from BBS’s Special Education department also helped, assisting special needs children and ensuring that the camp provided a healthy environment which was as inclusive as possible. For instance, when children got tired or found it hard to adapt to an activity the other kids were doing, they were able to go to a special room prepared for their comfort in which they could watch movies or do anything that helped them feel peaceful.

“My 6-year-old daughter sells roses on the streets. Her father used to take her but he is very sick now, so she goes alone. I’m afraid for her but we have no choice.” 

It All Starts with Basic Needs Assistance!

Local partners of LSESD’s relief and development arm MERATH recognise the seriousness of this issue, and are seeking to respond. A core component of MERATH’s work has always been basic needs assistance, partnering with local churches in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to provide vulnerable and refugee families with food, winter items, fuel and other necessities. Because child labour is often a coping strategy a family turns to when they have no other option, such assistance can make the difference between a child having to work or having the opportunity of education. 

At 11 years old, Fayçal’s home in Syria was destroyed, and he and his family were forced to flee to another part of his country. When his father was injured and became paralyzed, Fayçal felt that he had no choice but to drop out of school to find work at a car wash to provide for the basic needs of his parents and younger sister. A local church leader, one of MERATH’s partners, found Fayçal and his family and got to know them and their situation. The church added Fayçal’s family to the monthly food assistance project, as well as providing them with blankets and warm clothes. Because of this additional support, Fayçal was able to go back to school and continue his education.

“It broke my heart to see my only son sad and desperate. He worked hard to help us. We had no choice or else we would be on the street. Thanks to your help we stood on our feet again and the most important thing is that Fayçal will continue his study and live a normal childhood. Thank you for bringing the smile back to his precious face!”

Education Prevents Exploitation

Lack of access to education is a key factor in enabling child labor, and at least 41% of children aged 6-14 in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are still out of school. MERATH partners with 9 non-formal education projects for out-of-school children in Lebanon, reaching 1,500 children with basic education and psychosocial support, in areas where Syrian children are unable to access education in public schools, or need additional help. Several projects provide extra after-school educational support to Syrian children enrolled in public schools, to enable them to cope with the Lebanese curriculum, catch up missed years of learning, and give them the confidence and skills they need to remain in school.

In one centre it was encouraging recently to hear stories of how two older boys had been taken out of school in order to work, but when the staff at the education centre talked with the parents, they were able to convince them of the importance of education and the children are now back in school.

Livelihood Projects for a More Sustainable Future

MERATH is also looking to find new ways to support families to meet their own needs, both in Syria, as communities seek to rebuild, and in Lebanon. One partner is including vocational training and career orientation in their education programme, and several others are starting livelihoods projects to support people to learn and use skills to generate income, including sewing projects, hairdressing, mobile phone repairs and agriculture. MERATH is developing a new livelihoods project that will directly target youth.

This article first appeared on the MERATH Lebanon website 

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