Voices

Syrian children: Coping with trauma through drawing

After the trauma of fleeing Syria, refugee children express their heartbreaking stories by illustrating them at a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Betsy Baldwin, program management officer for World Vision’s humanitarian and emergency affairs team, writes today about a recent trip to Lebanon. Visiting Syrian refugee children who had fled their homes, Betsy witnessed firsthand the effects of the trauma these children had been through. Here, she describes the heartbreaking stories she saw illustrated by these children’s hands.

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On a recent vacation, I tested the goalie skills of my 6-year-old nephew by shooting a soccer ball at his makeshift goal. We were alone, except for a few passing pedestrians and cars. Shade and clean water waited for us inside.

A week later, I was with colleagues in the eastern part of Lebanon, only a 40-minute drive from Damascus, Syria. I was there to visit Syrian children who had fled from the war across the border.

Many Syrian children have been out of school for months, even years. Now they are behind and unable to transition easily into the Lebanese schools. World Vision, along with many other humanitarian agencies, is providing fast-track learning programs to these children to build their confidence and fill their knowledge gaps. The goal is to get them into a local school near where they are now living in Lebanon.

If only missing classes was their worst struggle. They’ve seen and heard some of the worst, most vicious things that humans do to each other. Our teachers help them deal with this trauma through drawing. During our visit, we saw several pictures of the children’s wishes and thoughts.

The first drawing was of a nicely dressed woman and a child (above).

The teacher explained that this child wished to be with her mother. The child’s mother had been killed.

The next picture was of a family gathered around a dining room table. This child’s wish was to be at the table again with the whole family together.

The next was of a house. The child wanted to be an architect and build a house for the family and other people who had lost their houses.

But it was the last picture that pushed me so hard I had to walk away. I first noticed a group of kids playing soccer. One child was lying on the ground. When I saw the men with guns and tanks on the other side of the page, I feared the explanation. The teacher said that this child had been playing soccer with friends when an armed group attacked and killed some of them.

I couldn’t look at any more pictures. It became too emotional and personal as I thought of my nephew, his love for soccer, and how he is able to play without danger of bullets and bombs.

Syrian children have had to face what no child should ever see. Those who have fled their homes — now refugees in other countries or still stuck in Syria — are often left with nothing. Yet the world’s response has been to somewhat ignore them.

We can’t bring back mothers or erase the horrific things a child has seen. But we can help them return to school and have the food and water they need. It’s what we do for our children. It’s what we should do for these ones.


Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as support initiatives to help refugee children continue their education away from home.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

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