Working with Palestinian and Syrian Refugee children with the NGO Right To Play
I arrived in Beirut Lebanon at 2am on a Saturday. It was a warm summer night in July 2017. After two delayed flights from London Gatwick through Barcelona to Beirut, and a lost luggage I suppose you could say the trip didn't have the best start. However my friend Khalil once told me that the best trips always have a rough start. By the 3rd day I confirm that is one hundred percent true. I had fallen in love with the city and had been positively shocked.
As the hotel shuttle collected me from the airport, we went through two military check point zones where the driver explained to me that these checkpoints are a form of protecting the city from the terrorist group Hezbollah. Driving to the hotel, my initial reaction was based upon the views of the dark night sky where dirt roads and rough buildings were my surroundings. My father always taught me to have low expectation levels; where if your expectation was low and your experience is great then that is a cocktail for happiness. I followed this advice. Although nervous to be travelling alone for the first time to a foreign country that I have never been to, in fact I had never been to the Middle-East. Yet I remember telling my father and mother that I was grateful to have this opportunity to learn and to grow.
On my first official day working at Right to Play, I was briefed about the organisational structure by Mohammad Al-Shami, a very inspirational young man with a beautiful life story. He told me he had never got on well with the educational programme at school and even got expelled 6 times.
However, he was very smart and graduated university with a degree in Finance and Engineering. Mohammad is very passionate about educating Refugee Children through games in which he believes physical and active ways in teaching academics is long lasting and easier to grasp even the tough mathematical problems. He then explained to me the various project’s that Right to Play is involved in. Including the Taalom (which in Arabic means ‘getting educated’) Humanities project, Sport’s for development and GOAL which stands for Gaining Opportunities and Access to Livelihoods program. Each based on the intra specific needs of the community involved in each project. In summary each program includes EEQ (enhancing education quality) life skills and training teachers the educational program who then take care of the kids in order to made the schools self sustainable. The teachers implement play based sessions, where observations and the evaluations are made by the employees at Right to Play who then give constructive feedback.
The structure of the criteria goes as follows:
1. Opening discussion
2. Warm up - physical activity - energiser
3. Main Activity (eg: games to teach maths)
4. Cool down
5. Closing discussion (very important; which includes what the children have learnt.) :
• Reflect (what they did)
• Connect (education to life skills)
• Apply (to ordinary life and what they have learned)
Within these projects there is incredible detail on community service workshops, Play days, Parental engagement and Child Protection policy. Such as the correct ways in conducting Media acknowledgement of Refugee children.
On one of the days I went on a field trip an hour and a half drive outside of Beirut to a local school; hosting Syrian Refugee children. On the way there, I couldn't help notice that as soon as we got out of the city, the area surrounding us was filthy. The roads were bad with crazy drivers and rubbish and garbage piled the streets with plastic bags dancing in the wind.
Once we arrived at the school we went straight into a classroom, where the Syrian kids were sat around a table. The classes were very modern and immaculately clean with air conditioning. As soon as i saw the children’s faces and the sparkle in their eyes my heart melted. (Mom this is for you) I even noticed a young girl wearing a Burberry jacket, which must have been given to her by one of the charities giving away people’s old clothes. I couldn't help smile to myself and immediately understood that the conditions in which these specific refugee children were in, were fantastic and definitely not what the world media portrays them to be. Although this is hugely because of the help of Right To Play.
Do get a bit more technical, it is important to understand the specific project that Right to Play takes part in, within these classrooms. The project ‘GOAL’ which i previously mentioned is an abbreviation for Gaining Opportunities and Access to Livelihoods. The Goal program ultimately combines life skills and profiling in the education system. There are 3 phases to the Goal project:
1. Profiling : This is a task basically finding out the children’s interests in their career paths, known as career trial orientation. Right to Play trains the teachers how to combine their talents and passions with life skills and profiling.
2. Vocational Training : The teachers are trained how to vocally and physically teach the children their jobs they want to do in the future. This includes (but not limited to) electrical work, metal work, wood work, bee-keeping, carpeting, gastronomy/hotelier, logistics and healthcare.
3. Job Placement : This is where Right to Play tries to find jobs for the children after their education and helps build them a CV. There is no guarantee for employment however there are s held with stations for the youth to show their skills and have a chance to be recruited.
Back in the classroom, the children (aged 13-16) were participating in the profiling process, and I witnessed them learning maths, memory, concentration and focus games. We then were toured around the school. What struck out to me by far was their physics class. These were kids ranged between the ages of 10 and 16 and I was shocked to my core with what they had made. I will give a couple of example’s:
• Heaters: made out of Pepsi cans glued together and put into tubes which work on wind and solar energy therefore is sustainable, renewable energy. These are great to use in the refugee camps during the winter.
• Mini Solar panels.
• An actual oven. An oven okay. wow. It has been tested to cook food in.
• A home made air conditioner. (made by kids in grade 4)
• A generator.
Part of my experience at Right To Play was to write an analysis of the Lebanese Crisis Response Plan, United Nations High Commission on Refugees and Right To Play’s GOAL livelihood strategies. I have attached it here for anyone interested in reading it. HERE
For those interested in making a real difference, I encourage you to research more about social and economic development for refugees rather than pure humanitarian assistance to refugees (such as Palestinian refugees who are no longer affected by direct war but rather by a lack of development and integration.) Please find more information provided by UNHCR’s livelihood strategy. HERE