Nour was an introverted child who could not get along with her peers. When anyone tried to talk to the nine-year-old, her immediate response would be to scream.
Worried about her daughter’s deteriorating psychological condition, Nour’s mother turned to Shakhabit centre for troubled children.
“Nour displayed symptoms typical to those of an autistic child,” her supervisor Sawsan told the Damascus Bureau.
“I gently encouraged her to play with other children to bring her out of her state of isolation, and four months later began to notice a difference in her behaviour,” 23-year-old Sawsan added.
Nour is one of many children receiving care at Shakhabit, which uses recreation and educational programmes to treat troubled young people.
The organisation operates under the umbrella of Kfar Nabel’s Child Care Foundation (CCF), which is funded by the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) and supervises the work of a number of juvenile support centres.
The CCF employs a training manager, three trainers and a logistics officer, who train staff working at various facilities under its auspices.
So far CCF has delivered training courses to staff at centres in Kfar Nabel, Maarat al-Numan, Maarat Hurma, Hass and Aleppo’s southern countryside.
“There are no limits to what we can do,” 28-year-old trainer Salam told Damascus Bureau.
“We are always ready to organise free training courses for any centres that approach us.”
Each course runs for ten days, after which participants are awarded a certificate.
Another trainer, Ruqaya, combines training staff with treating children.
“We aim to help aggressive children emerge from their state of conflict, teach them how to handle and overcome problems and boost their self-confidence; thereby bringing them closer to a sense of normality and stability,” the 25-year-old said.
Ruqaya highlighted the case of a 14-year-old girl named Batul.
“I noticed that Batul was always sad, so I asked her about the reason. She told me her father had made her drop out of school, and she was both embarrassed by what he had done and afraid to ask him to allow her to go back,” Ruqaya continued.
Ruqaya taught Batul a number of self-confidence techniques, and told her that she should use her personal strengths to solve her problems.
She advised Batul to tell her father how much she loved going to school. She also told her to seek the support of someone who could persuade her father to allow her to resume her studies.
Batul approached her paternal grandfather who managed to convince his son to let her continue in education.
According to an official report published by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), around two million Syrian children require psychological support.
“The ongoing war has caused great psychological and social damage to children,” CCF director Abu Abdo told the Damascus Bureau.
“Harsh living conditions, hunger, siege, bombardment, battles, displacement and the loss of parents or loved ones are among the many things that have affected them,” he said.
CCF has adopted a curriculum based on UNICEF material.
“Our training programmes incorporate educational and recreational techniques with psychological activities, which are part of a [UNICEF] programme called Life Skills and Right Play,” said Abu Abdu.
“The curriculum we follow is called Deal, which uses special games that teach children how to deal with fear, how to stay calm, and how to behave when in danger – for instance during an air strike.
“Different age groups are taught using different methods. We have Big Deal for children aged between 10 and 14, and Little Deal for children between six and 10 years old.”
CCF intends to send its staff to Turkey to receive training in implementing two new programmes, She Deal and Parent Deal.
Current training techniques used include relaxation through breathing, active listening and drama. Children act out a scenario that helps explain the nature of their problem and a possible solution.
They are also taught how to observe facial expressions and thus deal with people who may be feeling sad, nervous or scared.
“My daughter Lujain was extremely shy before she joined the centre, and hardly talked to anyone,” said Rihab, 45. “She has been attending various training activities for six months, and has made massive progress. She even sings along with the other children on stage.”
Tamir, 13, who attends his local child support center Alwan, added: “I always feel happy when I come here because despite all the misery that surrounds us, there are still people who care about us, love us and make us feel safe.”
Maha al-Ahmad is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Kfar Nabel, Syria.
This featured story was published in The Syrian Observer at a special agreement with Damascus Bureau.