Over the past two years, the term refugee has moved from humanitarian development circles into living rooms around the world as international crisis and crisis force men, women, and children to flee their homes for safety. From the flicker of the television screen and cultural, linguistic, political, and religious divides, it can be difficult to process the lives of those living as refugees. Palestinian American poet, songwriter, and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye stated, “You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back- it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.”
As with any unfamiliar situation, education is vital to understanding what we personally do not experience. According to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 21.3 million refugees in 2017, including 5.2 million Palestinian refugees registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Statistics from UNHCR also show that out of 21.3 million refugees, over half are under the age of 18.
Refugee children have their lives disrupted in such a way that the impact runs deep into their core. Being a child and finding your place in a large world is challenging and requires innocent bravery and acts of courage. This transition through childhood to adulthood is eased for those with familial support and strong roots of community. Knowing who you are and where you come from is a key part of the foundation of identity that everyone experiences.
For children growing up in a refugee camp, the journey of recognizing identity can be especially challenging as they seek to learn who they are in a location seemingly temporary. The refugee camps of Ein, Balata, and Old and New Askar within the city of Nablus have existed for generations, resulting in children whose have difficulties recognizing who they are beyond the singular experience of being a refugee. Without opportunities to try new activities, space to play, and safety to meet other children from different parts of the city, kids cannot grow through use of their imagination in a healthy way.
The struggle of identity, disruption of education, and loss of security and safety in their lives are common experience of students of TYO’s Core program. TYO approach of comprehensive development, sustainable impact, and cultural diplomacy, as well as the method of using non-traditional holistic educational techniques seeks to provide a space for children to learn, play, and grow. Children from different areas of the city and all the refugee camps come to TYO and have a safe space to learn, but also to explore who they are and what makes them special. The freedom to try different activities, sing, dance, and play with adults who meet the students where they are mentally and emotionally is vital for refugee children’s development. Whether time is spent painting a masterpiece, singing a song, or practicing the ABCs, time spent with children to help them find self-worth and hope is always time well spent.
As adults, the responsibility to support and encourage children is one that cannot be forsaken. As the world focuses on the impersonal facts of refugee movement such economic and political impacts, let us not forget the people, especially the children, that make up the figures and numbers. Join us today, June 20, in celebrating World Refugee Day and the amazing children we are fortunate to know.
– Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator