The COVID-19 pandemic hit Lebanon at a time of heightened social and economic instability. The impact of the virus is not limited to just those who have been infected, but is also increasing stress and anxiety amongst the whole society. Across the country, children represent an unusually high proportion of people affected by the outbreak. Throughout this period, UNICEF, supported by the European Union through the EU Madad Fund, continues to play a crucial role in supporting Lebanon’s most vulnerable children with a series of key initiatives, the latest of which has seen 6,500 specially designed psychosocial support kits delivered to Lebanese and other families at risk.
For Johanna Eriksson Takyo, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection in Lebanon, the launch of the Psychosocial Support (PSS) kits marked a key event in the organisation’s ongoing commitment and essential role in the protection of the country’s most vulnerable children – in particular as the coronavirus continues to spread across the nation.
“Children have a right to learn and to play, even in these most difficult circumstances”, Johanna stresses. “At UNICEF, we’re happy that from today – and with the support of the European Union - we’re sending out 6,500 kits to families to support children’s learning, play, protection and well-being”.
Thanks to financial assistance from the European Union, UNICEF is now delivering PSS kits to 6,000 very vulnerable families, with an additional 500 to be sent directly to children in isolation centres.
The kits, designed in Lebanon, are aimed at supporting a child’s learning and well-being. Each kit includes materials for up to 5 children in a household and addresses the needs of those aged from 3 years up to 14 years of age. It also includes a number of items which can support caregivers to engage with their children and initiate discussion and communication, as well as provides COVID-19 safety messages for the whole family.
Designed to create an entry point to child engagement for parents and caregivers, the kit features story books, flash cards, and developmental games for children of every age group – each item included for their power to inspire a connection with children during these challenging times. A series of three age-appropriate colouring books with stories offers an opportunity for caregivers to read to children and encourages them to open up about fears and concerns in order to discuss facts and dispel myths. Flash cards deliver visual images to further provoke children’s emotional responses to a variety of everyday situations, and games open periods of one-on-one time where parents and children can engage fully on something other than the stresses of the current crisis.
Also included is a copy of a UNICEF Lebanon-published children’s book, “The Adventures of Jad and Tala.” Part of a series that includes a collection of children's stories written for children aged between 4 and 9 years old to highlight key child rights and themes that affect the educational, psychological, health and social development of children.
Designed to encourage an increase in the amount of time children spend playing, and learning, together and with their parents, the included activities also demonstrate how it can be fun to play and learn to care for each other.
Other elements of the kit encourage children to express their fears by drawing and encourages parents to be attentive to their drawings - discussing fears and listening to their concerns.
Also included are tools to assist children build a routine to help promote stability, and to keep them occupied and engaged in playing and learning.
Sara Campinoti, the European Union’s Programme Manager- Migration, Health, Child Protection in Lebanon, said, “Child protection is one of the main areas of importance for the European Union. Although delivering a box inside which there are books, papers, pens and cards, seems like a simple gesture, I believe its impact can be huge. This action sends a message to families that they are not alone during this period of multiple crises. The contents have been carefully designed to engage and educate both parents and children, and it delivers a positive model for parents to follow during these difficult times”.
One of the first children to receive a kit was 14-year-old Narjes and his younger sister Marie Belle. “I received the kit today”, Narjes smiled, saying “it was the board that I liked most of all! My sister loves the story book because it is full of colour – so, sometimes me or my father will read the story to her”.
Making good use of the reams of papers and bundles of pens and pencils, Najres added “I can now draw with my brother and sister, and I’ll be able to teach them how to write letters”.
UNICEF is working with its partners in Lebanon – including long-time partner Mouvement Social, whose Burj Hammoud premises hosted the launch of the initiative - to identify the most vulnerable families – those who will be the first to benefit from the EU-funded PSS kits.
The launch of the EU Madad Fund-supported PSS kits is timely given the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions together with the further impact on children and families of Lebanon’s economic crisis and deteriorating social conditions.