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15 - 26 May 2017 - Beirut, Lebanon

Strong Stories for Strong Children: A PRIX JEUNESSE Suitcase for Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon

On Monday, May 15th 2017, the Storytelling Club – an initiative by PRIX JEUNESSE Foundation in collaboration with the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television (IZI) and UNICEF, was initiated for the first time ever in Lebanon.
By Suzanne Kanso

PRIX JEUNESSE prides itself as being the largest network for high quality television amongst children with over 4000 producers world-wide. This traveling PJ suitcase made its way to the shores of the Middle East to garner a more inclusive representation for PRIX JEUNESSE INTERNATIONAL 2018 in Munich, Germany. Loaded with fundamentally enriching content, the Storytelling Club enables children to learn to recognize their own strengths and tell their own stories. Serving as a safe space for children to find their voice and grow, educators trained in pedagogy and/or therapy help children find these stories that strengthen their identity.

The content focused on: 1. Pride and self-confidence; 2. Dealing with fear; 3. Discovering our own strengths; 4. Experiencing Learning; 5. Problem-solving strategies; 6. Managing crises and danger; 7. Stories of strength This suitcase was unpacked by: Dr. Maya Goetz (Head of IZI at Bayerischer Rundfunk), Fadi Taher (Photographer & Videographer Global Activist), Hania Asgari (CEO of United Dreams, Children’s Rights Activist and PRIX JEUNESSE INTERNATIONAL 2016 Gender Equity Panelist and Jury Member), Yisra Al Haj Hussein (In Country Translator, Relief Camp Program Facilitator and Monitor at BILADI) and Suzanne Kanso (Storytelling Director, Global Activist and Children’s Media Educator).

The workshop entitled "Strong Stories for Strong Children" was purposed with empowering Syrian Refugee Children with their own stories of strength. As the educator and facilitator of the workshop in Lebanon, I was faced with many challenges; I was dealing with children who had experienced war, violence and pain - it wasn’t easy.

What does it mean to be strong? To be resilient? What can you equip refugee children with to persevere? Answering these questions wasn’t a simple task; it meant long hours of preparation, heavy discussions and careful planning. In summary, our role as a team was to provide these children with opportunities and a platform to thrive, to push boundaries, to dream.

“Strong Stories for Strong Children” was a strenuous workshop packed with learning activities, Ah-ha moments and breathing exercises. In this five day workshop, trauma stories surfaced; when asked what they wanted other children from across the world to know about Syrian Refugee Children, the answer was ‘strength and resilience’.

According to Dr. Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge on Child Decelopment, ‘Resilience’ (n.) is defined as the ineffable capacity to recover quickly from difficulties instead of allowing obstacles to drain one’s resolve. Resilient people have a positive attitude, are optimistic, able to regulate emotions and are capable of changing their outlooks. So in order to reward them with what these children already know, we collated their stories in the form of a book – the Storytelling Club book in Lebanon. This book was titled “The day I realized that I am strong: Strong Stories from Syrian Refugee Children who overcame everything!” There were a lot of happy stories but also unhappy ones; some of the darker stories collected from this workshop talked about war in Syria, assault and emotional and mental abuse. The workshop was their space – a space to break, to breathe, and to recognize their resilience. These collected stories of strength are intended to offer inspiration to children who find themselves in similar situations on both a local and global level.

THE LAST DAY: WHAT WE PARTED WITH
On our last today together, we’ve learnt to become trees. We all gathered around a tree, a lone green tall leafy tree that hugged us all under its shade, protecting us from the striking heat. And the suitcase unfolded as follows:

“Today, I want you to close your eyes. Take a deep breath in. Now exhale. In your exhale, let your deepest thoughts surface. You’re somewhere – may it be home, your balcony, or on the mountain. Now pick a tree, one that you really like, that you connect with or that represents you. Now remember that tree. This is your safe space. This is your strength (moments of dead silence and heavy breathing). Slowly open your eyes, now can someone tell me why?”

Molham, 9 year old war child, “Because it is still, strong and resilient. Miss, I think what the world and other children around the world need to know, is to continue to have fun and laugh. I mean we are children and we ran away from missiles, gunshots and tanks to seek refuge and survive, but look at us now we’re still smiling and laughing.”

Silence filled the space under our tree. Expressions of both agony and exhilaration were observed.

Mohammed, an 8 year old physically and emotionally abused child, “Miss, it doesn’t matter that we went through war, what matters is that we’re here, and still going outside and having fun – my favorite game is tag.”

“Resilient - this is what you are. No matter how strong the winds are, the tree remains resilient. This is how I want you to be – resilient, strong and unchanging, no matter how strong the winds are, no matter how difficult the obstacles are”, I enunciated.

And on that final note, we embraced our lone green tall leafy tree that hugged all our pain and then parted the children with the following message: “Promise me this, but most importantly promise yourself to become those trees, to become your own strength, to keep fighting no matter the odds.”

This is the story of strength from Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon, who overcame everything. 

Suzanne Kanso
Mansouriye, Lebanon