Homs, Syria, 2 June 2020 – In the war-ravaged village of Teir-Ma’aleh in northern rural Homs, children were barely recovering after years of conflict and displacement when a new challenge emerged. With the global spread of COVID-19, they were forced to stay home from school, away from their friends and loved ones, while the UNICEF-supported child friendly space in the village where they used to play and learn also closed, compounding children’s vulnerability.
“They had felt a brief glimpse of normality restored into their lives, being able to go to school and play with their friends in the street just like children across the world,” explains Salam, 25, who volunteers as an animator for children under UNICEF’s psychosocial support programme.
“Then COVID-19 emerged, forcing them to give these things up again,” he adds.
Salam, a mechanical engineer, now leads a team of four volunteers who have taken it upon themselves to bring back happiness to the children in the village.
“We are trying to bring the psychosocial support and child protection activities they would’ve participated in at the centre if it weren’t for lockdown, to their home,” he continues.
“We are helping them use the long time they spend at home doing something unusual, fun and educational all at the same time,” adds Aya, 24, a medical student and one of the volunteers.
To that end, the team of young volunteers write stories, compose songs and create fun activities, all centred around child rights, precautionary measures to protect against COVID-19 and mine risk education. The team then records them on their phones and goes door-to-door to share them with children by sending the recordings via Bluetooth to parents’ phones, along with printouts. A few days later, the team visits the children again to discuss the materials and provides them with new stories and activities.
“We expected children to better engage with voices, but we were thrilled to see how excited they were!” says Aya, who recorded many songs with her beautiful voice. “They listened to the recordings so many times that they could identify us by our voices on the second day,” she adds.
Osama, 22, is another team member who volunteered to cheer up the children of his community in his hometown, Teir-Ma’aleh.
“Children here had already been through so much and they still live amidst lack of basic services; the last thing they needed was to be forced to be away from school and friends,” he says.
Since the home visits started two weeks ago, children and parents knock on Osama’s door almost every day, asking when the team will visit their areas.
“I’m overwhelmed to see how happy children and parents are, with what we are doing; we’ve succeeded in helping ease some of the pressure they are under,” he adds with a big smile.
The three volunteers are part of a UNICEF-supported network of three child protection mobile teams supporting children in the governorate of Homs to cope with their situation during the COVID-19 lockdown.