The conflict in Syria and the resulting displacement of families is having a massive impact on the mental health of vulnerable young children.
Many of these children have seen scenes of catastrophe which wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood film – but sadly this is reality, not a work of fiction. The horrors of war have brought with them violence, grief, pain and both sexual and physical abuse.
In 2017, a Migration Policy Institute report found that Syrian children face PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) rates 10 times higher than that of other children around the world.
The report found children as young as 12 were turning to self-harm and attempting suicide while children as young as six were fighting conditions such as toxic stress, depression and acute PTSD. It also found a total of 70% of Syrian children have experienced a death in the family, while 60% have seen someone kicked, shot at or physically hurt.
This is why READ Foundation’s Emergency Education Syria Appeal is funding a school in Aleppo. Because we understand that school is a place where children should feel supported in all aspects of their lives – and this includes the mental health of students too.
READ Deputy CEO Rehan Salim said: “Every child that is deemed to be in need of assistance has regular counselling sessions in private.
“The nature of the conflict means that some children have been in desperate need of psychosocial support for a long time, but haven’t been able to access it anywhere.
“These children haven’t just witnessed the traumas of war – we’re also seeing mental health problems emerging from child marriage, sexual discrimination and child labour. The counsellors not only work to address these problems, but help to curtail the spread of these ideologies too.
“We can’t expect children to go on to a better and brighter future if we don’t see their mental health as a priority. This has to be the starting point.”
Our school in the Aleppo area of Syria is currently providing education to more than 300 children and almost half (45%) are receiving mental health support.
The school also employs 17 staff and all teachers and the headteacher are given support and training to ensure they are able to deliver effective teaching in a disaster scenario. This includes fast evacuation, safety measures and child protection – procedures for which are constantly being reviewed and updated.
All of this helps to ensure the children are well looked after, both mentally and physically, while they learn in a safe environment.
“We’re reaching far beyond their educational needs – we’re making sure these children are having their mental health needs met as well,” said Mr Salim.
“This won’t be a quick fix and the children will need long-term support in both their education and their mental wellbeing.
“Our aim is that with each week that goes by, things become a little easier on these unfortunate children – children who’ve seen far too much violence in their short lives.”
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