10 November 2016

Open Doors sponsors safe space for vulnerable children in Homs, Syria

Children in Homs province, Syria, have been playing in a Child Friendly Space funded by Open Doors and run by a partner organisation in Syria.

Field worker George* describes it as 'a safe space where children can develop and grow and have access to critical psychosocial support'. For about two years now, he has been involved in the centre in Homs province in Syria. Some 320 youngsters can be children again during the days as they participate in the activities of the centre.

For millions of Syrian children, their lives are unrecognisable from how they were before March 2011 when the conflict in the country began. George explains: "Many children have been directly impacted by the violence, suffering from physical and psychological trauma and being forced to leave their homes. Children as young as seven are being recruited into the armed conflict, many suffer from increased levels of physical abuse at home, and young girls are at particular risk of sexual abuse, abduction, and exploitation."

According to George, many Syrian schools have been closed in this war and he estimates that in 2015 some 40 schools were attacked by one of the fighting factions. Many Syrian children are not going to school because of the security situation or due to lack of available places at the schools.

George said: "Very young children are being used in child labour and girls as young as eleven are being married off, sometimes in exchange for rent and other necessities."

The Child Friendly Space is located in an area close to Homs that is home to many displaced Syrians. It provides about 320 children each week with a safe space where they can develop and grow and have access to psychosocial support. The programme focuses primarily on activities for children ages three to fourteen and operates from Thursday to Sunday. George explains: "The activities are designed specifically for each specific age group to promote child development, psychosocial wellbeing, and coping skills. Activities include games, arts and crafts, music, drama, sports, free play, emergency education, and child protection awareness."

George explains "By providing a safe place to learn and play, the space also reduces children's risk of becoming involved in child labour and early marriage or sexual exploitation, and it significantly improves children's psychosocial well-being as they regain a sense of routine and normalcy, and are able to process difficult experiences."

George is already seeing the first-fruits of this space: "Playing is essential for their emotional and psychological development. Because of their lack of opportunity to play, children felt isolated and stressed; this even led to an increased violence amongst them. Now they have their own space, they slowly start to feel better. The informal education they receive is essential to them as they can't go to school."

The Child Friendly Space has become unmissable for the children in Homs. But George sees an even wider benefit. "The Child Friendly Space engages members of the community, so it is also strengthening the ties between the church and its surrounding community as they respond together to the needs of children."

*Names changed for security reasons

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Note to editors:

For more information, call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777346 or 07484000441

Remnants of a destroyed playground in Maaloula, Syria, October 2016

Syria is number 5. on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Syria to provide crisis relief, trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year, supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.

According to human rights organisations, 450,000 people have been killed during the Syrian war, 50,000 of them children (http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html).

One in 3 children in Syria have grown up knowing only war.