Basmeh and Zeitooneh
Peace education: war-torn children regain hope
Over the past 6 years, several rounds of UN-led peace talks in Geneva as well as parallel talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, have failed to stop the fighting in Syria. The Syrian war is the deadliest conflict the world has seen in the 21st century: hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and many more millions fled to neighbouring countries. In the face of all this, a question arises : what can be done?
Since October 2015, International Alert together with Basmeh and Zeitooneh, an NGO that supports Syrian refugees and the communities that are hosting them in Lebanon, have been running peace education programmes to address some of the impacts war has on children and adolescents. “Many children have witnessed people holding a gun to someone’s head. To have access to guns, without preparation or understanding, the availability of weapons and society accepting it... We wanted to ensure that this was not ‘normal’,” says Elio, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who leads peace education classes in Beirut, Lebanon.
The project uses art and play therapy to foster peacebuilding values and build young people’s resilience. Indeed, children who have been through so much face many challenges, which can continue to affect them into their adult life. Peace education gives children access to supportive role models and mentors, as well as physical and emotional safe spaces where they can feel physically secure. It allows them to express themselves freely, to deal with their grief and traumas, navigate and cope with the impact of war and displacement, and to experience some of the simple but vital pleasures of childhood.
For many young people, peace education represents a turning point to regain hope for the future and spread the message of peace. Providing safe spaces where younger generations can learn how to resolve conflicts through discussion and non-violent ways is, therefore, an effective way forward to counter violence and foster peace.