World Humanitarian Day 2014

Tuesday 19 August 2014

World Humanitarian Day falls on 19 August, the day in 2003 when 22 aid workers were killed in a bombing at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. It's a day to commemorate all people who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world. -

In Egypt, one of Save the Children's responses to the Syrian refugee crisis has been to create Child Friendly Spaces across Greater Cairo. These spaces allow children a safe place to play, learn, socialise and express themselves within a protected environment. Mais has been a Psychosocial Support Worker in one of our Child Friendly Spaces since June 2013, which means she has been with our humanitarian response since the very beginning. Read Mais's story in her own words, which demonstrates her inspirational attitude to helping Syrian children who have been forced to find a new home in Egypt:

"In Syria I studied law, but what I like most is to work with children. At one time I was doing administration work, but I didn’t enjoy it so I started to work with children instead. My law studies were related to children’s rights, and their rights within their communities. What hurts me the most is to find a child crying, for any reason.

 I have been in Egypt for a year and four months. When I first left Syria, I went to Turkey for around two months. I decided to move to Egypt from Turkey because of the language issue, as it would have taken me a long time to learn Turkish in order to work there. I have two children, aged three and six years old, and I couldn’t send them to school in Turkey. My brother was already in Egypt so I came to stay with him. My husband has been detained for two and a half years in Syria, so I have to work. In Egypt I can get a job and have better interactions with the community. At the beginning I had savings, but now I have to work all the time to earn enough money. My children go to an Egyptian nursery while I am at work. They now speak with an Egyptian accent!

 When I first came to Egypt I worked for a month and a half at an Egyptian nursery. I then decided I wanted to establish a new place for Syrian children, along with my friends, but we didn’t have enough money to do this. Soon afterwards, I was told about the Child Friendly Space and applied to work here. I heard about it from my friends, who were also applying to work with Save the Children. Since I didn’t have the funds to start my own project, I wanted to work here so that my dream of working with children could come true. I don’t mind which children I work with, but I was particularly interested in Syrians because I understand their situation. Many don’t attend schools or have anywhere to go, and they face problems with their accent here. In Turkey I saw the same problems. I taught the Syrian children myself because they couldn’t go to school due to the language issues they faced.

 I am like the archive of this Child Friendly Space, I know everything about it! At the beginning we only had a few children – around 20 per day – so we didn’t run many activities. We worked with children from just two areas of 6th of October City, Cairo, but now we conduct outreach in many places and have a lot more children. Some children have been coming for a year now, so we need to make sure we keep doing new things so that they don’t get fed up with the activities. Now we regularly receive around 375 children. When the CFS was very new, we didn’t have the trust amongst families that we have now. At first the project targeted only Syrians, but then we started to work with the Egyptian community too. We now have some Egyptian children attending the CFS, but it is mainly Syrians.

 When we first opened the CFS, we gave all the children a chance to draw whatever they wanted. Most of them drew the Syrian flags, trucks and things related to the war. After a while we asked them to do the task again, and the children drew trees and birds instead. We did an evaluation with their families after six months and the parents told us that they had seen a big psychological difference in their children. At first, I saw girls older than twelve years old crying no matter what you were talking about, because they weren’t happy. Now they feel better and can talk about anything. We hold four psychosocial sessions for different groups of children every week. We carry out individual sessions upon the child’s request, or if we notice a change in a child and their interactions with others. In these cases, we ask them whether they would like to talk to us about their problems. If children are feeling unhappy at home, their parents will often call me to talk to the child over the phone and discuss how they feel. If a child stops coming to the CFS for a while, their parents will ask me to speak to the child and find out why they aren’t going.

 When children first arrive, they usually talk about their feelings and what happened in Syria. It brings them relief just to talk or draw about their experiences. But the boys don’t often talk about their feelings because they see themselves as men who can’t complain about their situation. However I can feel that there is something wrong with them. Even if they look like young men, they are still children. Their jobs are not extra work for them - they have to work because of their family’s needs. It is not optional for them to do it; they aren’t doing it because they want to leave school. It is out of my hands. If I hear of a boy who stays at home and wants to work like his friends, I will give him advice. This is if I know that his family really don’t need him to work. But if I know that a family needs the money and he needs to work, I can’t do anything. There are different cases: maybe the father and all the children work as they really need the money or the children work because their father is ill and he can’t earn any money.

 My favourite thing about working at the Child Friendly Space is the satisfaction I get from working with the children and their families. I like to know that we are taking action by listening to their problems. All these aspects are a push for me to improve my work and it makes me happy. For example, there was one child who did not like working in a team, who always worked alone and did not concentrate on what the facilitators were saying. After I helped him to get involved with the other children, I noticed an improvement in him and now he likes to participate in everything. Another boy didn’t like to talk at all at the beginning, but then the spirit of the place, being with other children and the efforts of the facilitators helped him to talk and take part in the activities. It is our teamwork that helps the children; not only me. There are three of us in our team: two permanent psychosocial workers and one consultant who visits us regularly. What I’d like is more training on how to deal with all different problems we see in the children, across the different ages.”


Mais helps to run group and individual sessions with children at our Child Friendly Space, to ensure that they receive the support they need.