The news cycle has moved on, but in Lebanon over a million Syrian refugees remain. Some 350,000 are camped in the Zahle region of the Bekaa Valley alone. In a recent visit to two families there, Katerina Parpa, a Communications Officer in SAT-7’s International Office, saw the possibility of change amongst their very real struggles.
Imagine you have spent a lifetime working long days in the fields. Building your farm with your own hands. Creating a home and a family with your spouse. Then, in an instant, everything is taken away from you. Your crops are set on fire, your home bombed.
You and your family run. When you return a few days later, you find your house ransacked. The tiles you carefully placed lie shattered; the walls you painted are riddled with bullet holes. Your belongings have been looted and your furniture reduced to firewood.
This is Hasan’s* story. We sit together on a bare concrete floor in the tent where he lives now as he shows me images of his ruined Syrian home on his phone, one of the only possessions he still has from his old life. The images of the destruction wrought by ISIS could have been recorded by many of the millions of other displaced Syrians. Like Hasan, they are sitting in camps and other temporary residences, remembering the places they once called home.
Hasan offers us black tea with sugar. Despite having very little, his hospitality is typical of Middle Eastern people, even with such a drastic change of circumstance.
The only floor coverings on the concrete floor of the small room are two three-inch-thick mattresses, easily penetrable by the cold from beneath. The sole cover over the structure’s wooden frame is a vinyl sheet made from old advertising banners.
Married at 15
Our team sits with Hasan’s wife and mother, along with Shadia and Ghada, two teenage girls who live in neighbouring tents. Shadia, who is 16, has brought her two-year-old son Mahmoud along, and Ghada’s toddler daughter Aziza also sits with the group.
It is very common in the camp for young girls like Shadia and Ghada to be married mothers by the age of 15. Girls are often held back from attending school, and their parents may marry them off for fear they will be trafficked and raped and because they cannot provide for them. Additionally, boys as young as ten years old at best are pulled out of school to work as farmers and help provide for their family and at worst are forced to become child soldiers.
Hasan gives Mahmoud some fruit, and the two-year-old splits the small piece and shares it with Aziza. Even though the neighbours share generously between them, the prevailing mood is hopelessness and hurt.
“Do you hope to go back to Syria and rebuild your home and farm?” we asked.
“No,” Hasan replies. “We want to go to Europe. The only thing we can do is wait for someone to help us.” Hasan is among many Syrians who have given up hope of ever returning to their homeland. What would they return to? Large parts of it have been reduced to rubble, and their families have been ripped apart. Many feel as Hasan does; overwhelmed by shame, they want to leave their heritage behind. And many do not feel empowered or capable of returning and rebuilding their country little by little without support.
A helping hand
However, there are ways that hope and support are being brought to refugee families, and one unique way is through the power of satellite television.
SAT-7’s ACADEMY educational programmes, such as My School, provide teaching for children without access to schools, as well as to adults who missed out on education. Programming for parents, such as The Coach, helps them support children dealing with trauma or who have a learning disability, and to speak to them in ways that restore peace and balance in families.
Through series teaching culture history, and heritage appreciation, SAT-7 is also helping to rebuild people’s love for their region and their desire to help restore what has been destroyed.
Output like Puzzle, which brings together children of different nationalities and faith backgrounds in problem-solving games, promote children’s rights, tolerance and appreciation of each other’s differences. These are crucial in a region where religious divisions are deep and where many refugee children experience discrimination and bullying in public schools.
Another new programme, Stories in the Attic, uses truths embedded in storytelling to promote critical thinking around issues such as child marriage.
A family of hope
For Christians, and especially those who have begun to follow Christ recently through the witness and support of local Christians, Bible teaching and prayer programmes help believers grow in their faith. Worship and televised church services provide fellowship, and counselling programmes provide guidance to help heal emotional wounds.
For families like Amir’s, SAT-7’s broadcasts can be a lifeline, nurturing faith and hope for their future.
Each of Amir’s children has professional aspirations, including their 17-year-old daughter, who has not been forced into an early marriage but instead works on hand sewn designs in pursuit of her dream of becoming a clothes designer. The mother and daughter show us their handsewn drapes and pillows made from donated fabrics, which they created in an attempt to make their tent more like their home in Syria.
As we leave, all the brothers settle in front of the TV watching the worship show Family of Jesus on SAT-7 KIDS, and the youngest, Moustafa, jumps around the room in excitement. The sight of this young family with hopes and dreams for the future fills my own heart with hope and a prayer that they, like other families, find their way to continue daring to dream.
*All names changed for security reasons
International Education Day on 24 January celebrates the value of education in promoting peace and development. The theme for 2020 is “Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace”. Read articles to see how SAT-7 ACADEMY programmes empower parents and children, equip them with skills for life, and promote tolerance and reconciliation: