JEZZINE, Lebanon, September 6 (UNHCR) – - At a summer camp for children from four war-ravaged villages in southern Lebanon, there is no indication of the violence they have lived through. Except for loud chanting and laughter, nothing breaks the calm.
The rationale that prompted the Lebanese non-governmental organisation (NGO), Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA), to gather 104 children in a school courtyard in Jezzine is simple.
"Those children have gone through very difficult times," said Farah Hassouna, one of 28 volunteers running the camp and a member of DPNA. "They are distressed. They have witnessed atrocities and fear and some of them had even lost homes or loved ones. They need to be children again, and the idea was to provide them with space to express themselves."
DPNA, one of 34 members of a network of NGOs in south Lebanon, organised the camp. It was funded by the Catholic Relief Services, while UNHCR provided tents, mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets from emergency supplies brought in for victims of the war. The location of the camp was chosen carefully.
"Here, they are far from destruction. They will be able to forget for a while the cruel scenes they have been seeing for weeks now," said Hassouna.
The children, ranging in age from nine to 16, come from villages that were severely damaged in the war. They will spend three weeks on a calm hill overlooking the houses in Jezzine, a village set among green fields and uninhabited hills that was relatively less affected by the fighting.
"I feel I am lucky to be here. During the war I was sad, and now I can play with other children my age. We share tents, we spend hours playing and having fun," said Yara, an 11-year-old from Sarafand.
Lamis, 12, shares a tent with Yara and four other children. She found the camp a refuge. "During the war, I was so afraid. Each time I hear the shelling, I think I am going to die. Here I feel safe, I am not afraid anymore and I thank god that the war is over."
UNHCR's support for the camp reflects the refugee agency's ability to expand assistance into new areas now that the delivery of emergency aid to Lebanese who returned to shattered villages is running smoothly.
UNHCR field teams, working closely with the Lebanese government and NGOs, are seeing what longer-term assistance is needed in addition to help in rebuilding. Such help could include income generation for those who lost their livelihoods, schooling for children who remain displaced and aid packages for those who host the displaced. There is also concern about the trauma that Lebanese, especially the children, suffered.
"We support the idea of the camp because these children now have the opportunity to recover good summer time that they missed out on during the war," said Tiziana Clerico, head of the special UNHCR team in the city of Sidon.
"They will learn to live with other children from different backgrounds and different religions, and exchange ideas and experiences. They will also build a common interest: the possibility to hope for a better future," Clerico said.
Activities in the camp go well beyond leisure. Besides playing, singing, drawing and performing plays, the children attend sessions on conflict resolution and peace building.
"One of the activities is a training we called 'ambassador for peace.' Children will split into groups and exchange ambassadors carrying a clear message, that of peace," said Farah.
A mine awareness session, given by the Lebanese army, is also part of the programme. Of the 13 people killed and 61 injured by unexploded ordnance, 22 were children. "In this camp we learn important things in life. We learn to love and respect each other, and not to be afraid. And the most important thing is to work as a team," said 12-year-old Mariana.
As a protection agency working with some of the worst humanitarian situations in the world, UNHCR acknowledges the importance of addressing the psychological impact of war on children. The smiles and laughter of the children at the camp indicate nothing but vibrant lives.
"This kind of activity is what Lebanese children really need," said Clerico. "They need to express their fear, and their unsaid emotions, and to let it out, without feeling threatened. They need to feel that life goes on."
Laure Chedrawi in Jezzine, Lebanon