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Summer camp to bring smile on Lebanese kids' lips

Kids from four war-ravaged villages in southern Lebanon gathered at a summer camp to shed the bad memories of war.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2006 22:03 IST

Lebanese children from four war-ravaged villages in southern Lebanon gathered at a summer camp to try to forget the violence they witnessed during Israel's July offensive against the Hezbollah.

The Lebanese NGO Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA) brought 104 children in a school courtyard in the Christian town of Jezzine to try to make them forget the "war experience".

"Those children have gone through very difficult times," said Farah Hassouna, one of 28 volunteers running the camp and a member of DPNA.

"They are distressed. They have witnessed atrocities and fear and some of them had even lost homes or loved ones. They need to be children again, and the idea was to provide them with space to express themselves."

DPNA, one of 34 members of a network of NGOs in south Lebanon, organised the camp. The Catholic Relief Service (CRS) funded it. The UNHCR helped by giving tents, mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets from emergency supplies brought in for victims of the Israeli offensive.

"Here they are far from destruction, they will be able to forget for a while the cruel scenes they have been seeing for weeks now," said Hassouna.

The children, aged 9-16, come from villages that were severely damaged in the offensive. They will spend three weeks on a calm hill overlooking the houses in Jezzine, a village set among green fields and uninhabited hills that was less affected by the fighting than other places.

"I feel I am lucky to be here. During the war I was sad, and now I can play with other children my age," said Yara, an 11-year-old from the village of Sarafand.

Lamis, 12, shares a tent with Yara and four other children. She found the camp a refuge: "During the war I was so afraid. Each time I hear the shelling, I think I am going to die. Here I feel safe, I am not afraid any more, and I thank god that the war is over."

UNHCR's support for the camp reflects the refugee agency's ability to expand assistance into new areas now that the delivery of emergency aid to Lebanese who returned to shattered villages is running smoothly.

"We support the idea of the camp because these children now have the opportunity to recover good summer time they had no chance to have during the war," said Tiziana Clerico, head of the UNHCR team established in Sidon city.

"They will learn to live with other children from different backgrounds and different religions, and exchange ideas and experiences. They will also build a common interest: the possibility to hope for a better future," Clerico said.

Activities in the camp go well beyond leisure. Besides playing, singing, drawing and performing plays, the children attend sessions on conflict resolution and peace building.

"One of the activities is a training we called 'ambassador for peace.' Children will split into groups and exchange ambassadors carrying a clear message, that of peace," said Farah.

A mine awareness session, given by the Lebanese Army, is also part of the programme. Of the 13 people killed and 61 injured due to unexploded ordnances, 22 were children.

"This kind of activity is what Lebanese children really need. They need to express their fear and their unsaid emotions without feeling threatened," said Clerico.