By Fatima Khaddour, a member of the Jamat from Salamieh, Syria and former Project Officer with the Aga Khan Foundation Syria.
From the onset of the Syrian crisis, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from all over Syria sought safe haven in Salamieh District in eastern Hama Governorate, increasing the population by 40% to its current total of 300,000. Many of those who were displaced – including children – were suffering from severe trauma. Humanitarian actors in Salamieh City, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), deployed psychosocial support (PSS) teams but responders soon realised that they were unprepared for dealing with the sheer extent of mental health needs.
The AKDN therefore developed a strategic plan for providing comprehensive psychosocial support in Salamieh District, using sustainable, community-based approaches to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). In addition to advocacy and awareness raising around MHPSS in conflict settings, and strengthening capacity in terms of skills and number of mental health workers, the plan also incorporated protection elements specifically designed for children. These included the provision of non-formal friendly spaces and support in helping children develop coping mechanisms, plus activities to help adults understand their child’s psychological, social, cognitive, motor and linguistic development.
Me and My Child in Crisis
One of the key elements of the strategic plan was the Me and My Child in Crisis programme (MMIC), which integrated PSS into AKDN’s well-established early childhood development (ECD) programming. The MMIC programme was initially set up to provide parenting sessions, whereby both IDP and host community parents could come together in a friendly safe space where they could discuss their experience of trauma (including death, loss, grief, shock and the challenges they face in bringing up their children in stressful environments). It became clear during the sessions that parents were unable to manage the pressures of coping with their children’s trauma in addition to the stresses they themselves faced; as a consequence, this group of children was becoming more neglected and therefore increasingly vulnerable.
Targeting both parents and their children up to eight years of age, MMIC sought both to introduce ECD concepts and to teach methods of providing psychosocial support to children. The project also presented an opportunity for facilitating better relations between IDPs and host communities – enabling them to sit together to discuss challenges in adapting to their new situations, in a safe space alongside people they could relate to.
Read more at the source: khaddour