Out of the shadows

19 Dec 2014   |   Blog   |   Syria   |   Emergency Relief

Tags:  Syria, Lebanon, trauma, Refugees   |   No comments

Melham recovering from a recent injury, with his brother Hussein.

An innovative program in Lebanon and Syria, supported by Caritas Australia, and delivered by the Caritas network in partnership with No Strings International, is using puppets and film to build hope and turn the lives of children around.

After nearly four years of war in Syria, millions of conflict-affected families have been displaced to nearby countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Sadly, millions of children have been affected in what the United Nations has described as the largest humanitarian crisis in recent years. Three years ago, Melhem, 12, was forced to leave his home in Syria with his father, Hassan and six siblings.

Today, Melhem, who is recovering from a recent injury, sleeps in a temporary dwelling with his family in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. During the day, he attends the education centre established by the Good Shepherd Sisters.

Throughout the crisis, millions of families like Melhem’s, both within Syria and those seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, have struggled to meet their daily needs of food and shelter. They have also found it hard to get education and psychosocial support.

This year however, Melhem had the chance to attend a month-long summer camp and to take part in a program that uses puppets, films and activities to help heal children of the psychosocial trauma associated with the Syrian crisis.

Hope through puppets

Puppet theatres in the No Strings program

The two puppet films – Out of the Shadows and Red Top, Blue Top – were created in partnership with No Strings International and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). They feature puppet characters that children can identify with and have been produced in relevant languages.

Through the films and puppet theatre, Syrian children learn to cope with their traumatic experiences in positive ways. The children also get to make their own puppets.

Melhem really enjoyed making a yellow Sponge Bob puppet, as well as the chance to make new friends. He said the experience made him have more “love and compassion” for others.

“I used to only have two good friends and now I have 20,” he says.

“I really liked the Blue Top, Red Top film the best because it was funny. My favourite character was Wisam, who was one of the leaders. He and his friend had a fight and then made peace.”

Caritas Australia support

I really liked the Blue Top, Red Top film the best because it was funny.My favourite character was Wisam, who was one of the leaders. He and his friend had a fight and then made peace.”
Melhem, 12

Caritas Australia’s Manager of Humanitarian Emergencies, Melville Fernandez says the program is now training more counsellors and teachers to ensure that it reaches thousands of children.

“Many of these children have witnessed violence, or may have had to run from various bombardments. They might have even experienced the death or disappearance of a close family member.

“Because of these traumatic experiences, many of the children continue to experience nightmares, difficulty sleeping, fear of sudden or loud noises and social withdrawal.

“The puppets help deal with this trauma and allow the children to play, to sing and dance, and to have hope for the future.”

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