Our First Little Heroesby Huda Nassar
Our first Little Heroes programme for displaced Christian children, aged 6 to 12, took place in August and September 2015, finishing just before the new school term would begin. This was only possible with the help of the Churches in Lattakia. The host church was the National Protestant Church, a church that we have known all our lives, and a number of their children took part to help the newcomers to integrate well.
We could not teach 200 children just by ourselves, and it was wonderful to see most of the young people we had just trained through our Young Peacemakers Programme coming forward to volunteer: more than 55 volunteer leaders helped to run the Little Heroes programme - a real blessing!
Little Heroes has three objectives:
The children came from all over Syria, including Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and Idlib and their surrounding towns and villages (see map, right), and from every denomination. They had lost their homes, many of them had lost family members, and they had lost all the friends they had made in their home town. They also missed those elements of childhood that we take for granted; one girl told me that she had not had time to bring her toys with her when her family fled their home and now she had nothing.
Every day, we gave the children lunch and snacks. At one mealtime, we gave each child a hamburger. The children quickly tucked in, but we saw two girls put the food down untouched. When asked why, one girl said that she could not eat as she had no money to pay for it. The second girl said that she wanted to take the hamburger home to share with her family - ten people living in one room. Their reactions revealed a little of the hardships that these children had faced, and in many ways were still facing. We reassured the two girls that they should eat, and the second girl took extra hamburgers home that evening for her family. We felt that we were blessed to be able to give the children plenty to eat, at least for a few days.
We started the Little Heroes programme with a special ceremony to encourage and inspire the children from the very beginning. This involved a procession around the church grounds, with flags and music, before lighting the “Flame of Peace” and entering the church for prayers. The parish priest and I prayed for the children and for peace. The music and flags were provided by the Church Scouts’ band from the Roman Catholic Church just down the road.
We did not offer the children “boring lessons”. We used many different ways to involve, inspire and excite the children, including:
Over six days, we worked with the children on vital topics such as love and tolerance, valuing the child and his/her existence (“The Lord is my shepherd”), accepting each other (“you are my brother & you are my sister”), the family unit and the wider “family” of the community, and how important it is to accept and respect other faiths . An important element was to boost the children’s self-confidence and sense of worth through the message that each child is “a Little Hero” who can strive for a better life.
Children were able to express their feelings particularly at the Bible Study sessions. They talked about their experiences of leaving home with nothing, and about the long journeys - physical, spiritual and emotional - that they had experienced since that time. For many of the children, this was the first opportunity they had had to speak about their suffering. This was perhaps the most important part of the day, to allow them to talk and to open up, and to give them a message of love and hope, to encourage them to see a future for themselves and their families. Only with hope can the children of Syria work to build this future together. The seeds of love, hope and trust that we planted in the Little Heroes programme may bear great fruit in time.
Over the six days, we saw the children change. Those children who, as a result of their terrible experiences, had been non-communicative or even aggressive, regained trust and became more peaceful and open. We saw smiles returning to the children’s faces; they began to laugh again, and to make new friendships. We believe that we achieved our goal to bring love, trust, hope and joy back into the children’s lives once again. As they deal with the tragedies and iniquities of the past, they grow in character and in strength. We believe that with these new-found qualities, they will face the new school year with confidence and hope.