Giving Syrian children the chance to be children again

How Unicef uses learning and play to help Syria's children

Shadi proudly holds up the drawing he has just finished. “I drew many types of fruit like bananas, oranges and mandarins,” he says. “It’s been a very long time since I ate fruit.”

Fruit used to be plentiful when he lived in Aleppo, but since war took over the country, it’s been difficult to find even a single fresh orange. He’s only 11 years old, but he has experienced horror that no child should ever have to go through: war and unrelenting violence, living in a city under siege with little or no food, and having to hide in basements too scared to go to school or play outside. This is no childhood.

You only have one childhood. Can you imagine it being filled with fear and uncertainty?

Thanks to Unicef-supported programmes, children like Shadi have the opportunity to play, learn and remember what it’s like to be a child. The programmes, which are designed to help children cope with the horror and trauma they have experienced, encourage children to participate and engage in a range of activities. Staff at the centres also identify children in need of special care and refer them to local service providers.

Shadi, 11, drew this picture at one of his Unicef-supported art therapy classes. "It's been a very long time since I ate fruit," he says.

What does psychosocial support mean?

Unicef runs psychosocial support programmes as part of our long-term response for Syrian children. These programmes encourage children to participate in a range of activities – including music, sport, art and play, as well as highlighting if a child needs special care.

Many of these programmes take place in child-friendly spaces, which are safe spaces for learning and play, equipped with education materials, toys and trained staff. Child-friendly spaces are different from formal education centres or schools because they do more than just teaching.

Scroll through the photo gallery below to see what children can do in the child-friendly spaces.

Mohammed, 8, plays with balloons at a Unicef-supported child-friendly space known as "Dream Land" in the Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. The centre offers classes in life skills as well as informal education and psychosocial support through play and sport. Unicef/2016/Herwig.
Unicef-supported volunteers entertain children at a child-friendly space in Jibreen, Syria. The makeshift centre provides recreational and educational activities as a form of psychosocial support. Volunteers also identify children in need of special care and refer them to local service providers. Unicef/2016/Al-Issa
A displaced Syrian girl draws at a Unicef-supported child-friendly space in Ain Issa camp, Syria. There are six child-friendly spaces in the camp, where children of all ages can take part in structured recreational and artistic activities which help restore a sense of normality to their lives. Unicef/2017/Souleiman
A teacher holds "emoji" toys, which help children to describe their emotions, at a Makani learning centre in Jordan. Unicef/2016/Rich
Twins Norhan and Ryan, 10, are Syrian refugees living in Jordan. They love going to classes in the Unicef-supported Makani centre nearby. Here they teach us and they give us activities and play with us," said Norhan (in pink). Unicef/2016/Rich
A Unicef support worker uses puppets in a child-friendly space in Akkar, Lebanon. Unicef/2016/Rich
Fatima, 11, plays a traditional drum as part of a music class at a child-friendly space in Lebanon. Unicef/2017/Lister
Two student volunteers entertain children at the Mabrouka camp in Syria. “Childhood is the purest thing in the world,” says Ahmad, 26, who volunteers with Unicef as well as studying history. “I feel like I have a duty to put smiles on the faces of children who have witnessed so many horrors, through my performances.” Unicef/2017/Souleiman

Meet the teams rebuilding Syrian childhoods

This is 25-year-old Ahmed. He’s a Syrian refugee whose hopes of studying law at university were put on hold when war forced him to leave his home and flee to neighbouring Jordan. Arriving at an informal settlement, Ahmed was encouraged to apply to work in the newly opened Makani centre. Makani means “my space” in Arabic, and the Unicef-supported centre is a place for children of all ages to play, learn and spend time being children.

“Everyday, except the weekend, I go to the Makani centre,” he says. “There are around 50 children that come to the centre, of all ages from 5 to 15.”

The hardest thing for Ahmed is that many of the children are traumatised by what they have been through.  “Before, a seven year old used to feel like a grown-up,” Ahmed says. “He had all the responsibilities of an adult. Many of them had lost their childhood. But I am happy that I have the chance to give a little bit of this back to them.”

“I am really happy to be working here,” he continues. “I think it’s an excellent project and the local community have really benefited from this. The Makani has become the centre of the community. I have seen the shift in these children. When they first came here, they had many problems, but now they play and laugh, they are more joyful.”

Ahmed, 25, stands outside the tented Makani centre where he works. The Unicef-supported centre is located in an informal settlement home to about 300 people near Jordan's capital, Amman.

The impact of Unicef’s child-friendly spaces for Syrian children

Over 8 million of Syria’s children have had their childhoods torn apart by war. We are one of the few humanitarian organisations working inside Syria, as well as in the surrounding countries, providing long-term support to help children, young people and families rebuild their lives.

This year, we’ve reached 328,371 children with non-formal education programmes inside Syria. Additionally, over 500,000 children in neighbouring countries have benefited from structured and sustained psychosocial support programmes.

But there is still more to do. By making a donation, you could help us heat a child-friendly space this winter. A donation of £100 will pay for a heater and fuel for a child-friendly space in a refugee camp, bringing safety, warmth and happiness to many children.

Help keep a Syrian child safe and warm this winter

Donate now