SARC providing psychosocial support across the generations

Publicado: 25 octubre 2013 16:37 CET

By Vivian Tou’meh, Syrian Arab Red Crescent

When you enter the Red Crescent’s centre for psychosocial support in Damascus, you’re in for a surprise. As you move from room to room, the centre is a hive of activity with people of all ages engaged in lots of different tasks.

The mothers’ room is decorated with handicrafts, and it is in here that we find Amal Utri. She has been displaced from her hometown and now lives in Duwaila in Rural Damascus. She usually visits the centre with her son Abdallah, and takes part in activities like English lessons, handicrafts and mothers’ workshops. She has learnt many new skills, like spinning handloom, needlework and has finished many handmade pieces.

“I love to come here. In the past, I was distressed and even the most minor issues would make me angry, and I would hit my son. Now, I count to ten before doing anything, and I do not hit Abdallah at all,” she says.

Like all other displaced persons, Amal has lots of problems. For example, she spends 90 per cent of her income on rent. Amal used to live in squalor with Abdallah, and they were completely dependent on help from relatives. Now, her living conditions are a bit better, but for the past year she has not been able to give her son meat or any tasty food. With the skills she has learnt at the centre, she hopes that selling her handicrafts can provide her with a small source of income.

“We have workshops for women, adolescents and children. They include defusing activities, dynamic and handicraft activities. We also teach people how to deal with stress,” says Maram Habashiah, the centre’s coordinator. “Of course we face difficulties. For example, some of our trained volunteers are leaving the country or need paid work. We would also like to have a bigger place so we can accommodate the numbers of children we receive daily.”

In the children’s room, the walls are hung with lovely paintings of indescribable intricacy. All the children are concentrating on their tasks. Abdallah, with his dreamy blue eyes, is looking at one of the pictures. What is he thinking about?

“I would like to eat croissants, but every day my mum cooks Mujadarah [a Damascene dish containing lentils mixed with rice].” Abdallah is just a child, and has no concept of how much his mother struggles to provide him with even the simplest meal for lunch.

Over in the corner, a group of boys and girls aged 12 to 18 are rehearsing a small sketch. They have written the words and made the costumes themselves. The play brings out all sorts of different expressions in the faces of the children taking part in the sketch. “This form of activity encourages relationships among children and enables them to create experimental performances based on their own interests. Those, in turn, often address the complex social issues they face,” explains Rasha Kurbaj, a psychosocial support trainer.

Firas Fateh, another psychosocial support trainer adds, “Some of the children have problems with speech. Some have physical problems caused by beatings by a parent and some boys try to be like old men.”

“Activities such as a masquerade party gives self-confidence to adolescents and raises their spirits, whereas doing handicrafts enables them to invent and be innovative,” says Nour Salah al-Asbahi. Nour joined the Syrian Arab Red Crescent three years ago and fills two different volunteer positions: as a first-aid volunteer on the night shift in the Damascus emergency response centre and as part of the psychosocial support team at this centre.

“I cannot stop working in first aid during these sensitive times. My colleagues in the first-aid team need help and we have to be together.”

In July, two of her colleagues in the first-aid team were injured during a mortar shelling on the first-aid centre in Damascus. “We were very sad to see our friends suffering their injuries. It was so difficult to see them in pain and distress.”

Sadly Nour’s colleagues in the first aid team were not the only Red Crescent volunteers to be injured in the conflict. On 27 August 2013, two Red Crescent volunteers were killed when a mortar shell landed in front of the branch office in Homs. These tragic deaths brought the total number of Red Crescent volunteers killed on duty to 22 since the beginning of the conflict.

Despite all these challenges, Nour donates her time to voluntary work in order to serve her society. Although there are happy moments, undoubtedly there is a lot of sadness, especially when colleagues are injured or killed.  

“These are the hardest times for us. As a psychosocial support team, we try to help our colleagues and support them during the times of mourning. Now, we are also trying to raise awareness of this side of voluntary work among the people we meet at the psychosocial support centres as well.”