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on a positive impact

Building the Front Lines of Care for the Resiliency of Refugee Children

By Ben Davies, Executive Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust

At least three million children in Syria have grown up knowing nothing but war. In a recent survey conducted by Save the Children inside Syria, two-thirds of the children reported that they have experienced their house being bombed, suffered from war-related injuries, or lost a loved one from the war – an experience that much fewer American or European children are familiar with. Many Syrian children have developed psychological scars and experienced toxic stress, increasing their future risk of suicide, heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse and depression.

Approximately 78 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in host communities. In these environments, it can be nearly impossible for families to afford ECCD services for their children. Research has shown that ECCD services have short-term and long-term positive impacts on a child’s development. Save the Children’s programs bring these valuable ECCD services to vulnerable and conflict-affected girls and boys.

Since the war began in Syria more than six years ago, nearly 5 million refugees – including 2.4 million children – have fled the country. Many are suffering from their past and struggling to adapt to their new environments. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of Syrian refugee children and their families live outside of refugee camps. This requires them to tap into completely new and foreign systems to access essential health services. For young children trying to cope with toxic stress while in the most important emotional and physical development stage of their life, access to early childhood care and development (ECCD) services as well as psycho-social support is crucial.

These services, of course, can only be offered when there are skilled professionals ready to provide care. Once trained, these professionals on the front lines of care become an immense asset to the larger health system that can in hand better provide for both the incoming refugee population, as well as the local population. Building the capacity of local care providers has been a core component of the shift in the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust’s (Trust) response to the Syrian refugee crisis from a humanitarian intervention, to health systems strengthening for local and refugee populations.

Starting in 2016, the Trust began a partnership with Save the Children and the International Pediatrics Association Foundation (IPAF) to provide and train trainers to deliver lifesaving health care, psychosocial support, and quality education to increase the resilience of refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon. On World Refugee Day, I invite you to learn more about this impactful work that is helping to build a healthier future.

A Save the Children trained teacher leads her students in a music activity in Jordan. Photo credit: Save the Children

In Jordan, Save the Children is training teachers on how to incorporate its Healing and Education through the Arts (HEART) approach into ECCD services. Children participate in creative activities to help them cope with trauma and express their feelings. This arts-based approach helps them develop socio-emotional coping mechanisms, improve communications skills, and build trust and self-confidence. Parents also learn how to support their children’s development through child protection, child rights and positive parenting. The program works to ensure that children have access to a nurturing learning environment that supports their overall development and transition to formal education.

In Lebanon, 84 percent of children in the target areas have no access to ECCD services and are deprived of opportunities that enhance early learning, protection, and psychosocial well-being. Save the Children’s program aims to help fill this gap and fulfill girls’ and boys’ rights to education and development in this area.

In Lebanon, Save the Children is delivering an innovative ECCD program for vulnerable children which incorporates its HEART and Emergent Literacy and Math (ELM) approaches in refugee and host communities. ELM promotes early literacy and numeracy through hands-on games, and it also encourages language skills, cognitive and socio-emotional development.

Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Lebanon. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

Save the Children is also responding to the challenges that children and adolescents face while living and working on the streets of Lebanon. This program provides children with psychosocial support, educational and life skills activities, individual case management and awareness-raising on child labor. At least half of the program beneficiaries are Syrian refugees.

On World Refugee Day 2017, the words that inspired me back in October 2016 ring just as true, “‘the world is full of refugees; they’re just like you and just like me.” Becoming a refugee can happen to anyone, anywhere, and we must remain committed to helping the individuals, families, and communities that are victimized in this crisis. For the Trust, this means continued investment in the systems and people on the front lines of care who will support refugee families and local communities in accessing quality ECCD and psycho-social support. With our partners, we know, that this will help build the foundation for refugee families to reclaim their lives and prepare for the future. 

Ben Davies, Partnership Director, Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust