Ahmad added a happy face to a flower he drew. The eyes he sketched with his favorite pencil were looking at the top right corner of the paper, where the big yellow sun was. The flower looked extremely happy after Ahmad finished drawing its big smile. When his teacher asked him about the exaggerated smile, “it’s a new day” was his answer. One would wonder where 13-year-old Ahmad, a Syria war child survivor, got his optimism and joy from.
Images of streets in ruins, broken trees, and totaled houses were engraved in Ahmad’s mind throughout his first two years in Lebanon. He was the eldest among his siblings, thus he remembered the clashes the most. He also recalled how worried and sad he was the day his parents decided it was time to leave Syria in 2013. He did not want to leave home. “I had a daily thought, every morning, that this day would be our last. I was always scared of losing my parents or my two younger brothers, but going the distance to Lebanon frightened me as well,” Ahmad recalled.
In Lebanon, Ahmad’s mother struggled with his distress. She needed a solution that would make him feel better. She was well aware that what her son has seen and been through, three years ago was traumatizing for a child his age. “I had nothing to do here, no friends to talk to, nowhere to go, and I missed home”, Ahmad admitted. “My mother sensed what I was feeling, and I worried her the most”. Two years later, Ahmad’s mother learned of the Child Friendly Spaces (CFS). It was a programme set up by World Vision and funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), as part of the No Lost Generation initiative. The spaces provide children aged from three to six with Early Child Education and young refugees aged from six to twelve, like Ahmad, with psycho-social support. The activities are conducted in four community centers in Beqaa, Lebanon where these kids can learn, play, sing and spend valuable time with children of their own age. Ahmad’s mother enrolled all three children in hopes that they, especially Ahmad, would get the support they need.
Ahmad attended the programme for one year only, as he was 12 already. “People here tried to help us forget the brutality of the war, and they succeeded”, he recalled how thrilled he was to participate in the drawing competitions that allowed the winner to hang his drawings on the wall. It took Ahmad one month at the CFS to realize that drawing and painting were his favorite activity. He enjoyed all the games and songs, but drawing became very dear to his heart. “In my first couple of days at the CFS, I only engaged in the art activities so I can take them home and show my mother what I was up to during the day”, he confessed. Ahmad recognized that she was doing her best to save her children’s childhood and make it peaceful again. He also knew that any progress from his side would make her and his father less worried and happy again. “But now, thanks to the CFS, drawing is my hobby, and I never had a hobby before”, he admitted. Even after finishing his year at the CFS, Ahmad still works on his drawing skills by practicing daily. “It still takes my mind off the big things; like where will we be in a couple of years? Do we still have a house in Syria to go back to? Drawing helps me stop thinking.” He admitted.
“Ahmad is very talented, we used to show his drawings around and take pride in them,” said Khouzama, a teacher at the CFS, describing him as a fast learner and an extremely disciplined student. “He still visits the centre from time to time, offers his help to younger children and draws funny faces to help cheer up the ones who are sad.” she continued. “He has a promising future,” Khouzama assured.
The talented young boy maintained eagerness in learning even in his academic studies, where he competes on the highest grades. “I am much more confident now than before, because I know I’m good at something”, with a small shy smile he explained that not only did he learn new skills and games, but also started having new friends in Lebanon and excelling academically.
Ahmad’s childhood was saved by a simple hobby, a couple of games, and a caring environment. Nevertheless, those colorful walls and the friendly environment became the safe haven for 150 refugee children who are now optimistic and joyful just like Ahmad.