Mercy Corps

To alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.
Oct 21, 2015

Feeding the future: School Lunches Set Kids Up

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Students at Habbouch Public School in Lebanon get ready for lunchtime. They received healthy bag lunches through our lunch delivery program, which helped fight hunger in Lebanese schools that serve refugee and low-income children. See additional photos below.

 

By 7 a.m. most mornings last spring, the kitchen at Mommy Made, a food skills training organization in Beirut, Lebanon, was bustling with staff lovingly preparing lunches for some of the city’s most underprivileged primary schools.

By 10 a.m., meals of chicken, fish, beans, salad, fruit or ma’ajinaat — small, doughy snacks usually filled with spinach, cheese or meat — were packaged, loaded onto refrigerated vans, delivered to the schools and distributed to every student at lunch time — for free.

Before Mommy Made’s food deliveries, 4-year-old Najya went the majority of her days at kindergarten without any lunch at all. She’s one of the lucky ones — just 25 percent of Syrian refugee children are enrolled in class in Lebanon — yet her family could rarely afford to send along the food she needs to be at her best.

Najya is not alone.

Missing meals is a stark, daily reality for many refugee and low-income families in Lebanon. Over a million Syrian refugees have flocked to the small country for safety from Syria’s civil war, and legions of people are barely scraping by as resources like jobs, food and shelter become increasingly scarce under the pressure. There are currently more than 1 million refugees and Lebanese citizens living in poverty in Lebanon.

Camelia, a staff member at Rawdat-al Toufoula School, which is located on the edge of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, told us most of the students there are Syrian. “We also have Palestinian, Lebanese, Sudanese [students]. They are very poor,” she said.

“Some of the children don’t have food. They don’t bring food to the school,” she continues. “Some of the others bring a little sandwich from home, but it’s not enough, or something very little.”

Earlier this year, we partnered with Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative, another local organization, to fill the bellies of students at three impoverished schools in Lebanon, including Rawdat-al Toufoula School. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed families who have children enrolled in these schools report not having the quality or quantity of food they need to be healthy.

But kids can’t learn without nourished minds and bodies.

So, we helped Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative get healthy lunches to the schools — and students — in their communities who needed them most.

We provided financial backing and logistical support to make the effort possible, including coordinating with school administrators, connecting with local farmers and food producers, and linking the organizations with the resources they needed to rehabilitate their kitchen spaces, learn about safe food handling, prepare nutritious meals and begin deliveries.

Children in Beirut received warm, balanced meals planned every week by Lynn Charabaty, Mommy Made’s dietician. On each of the five school days a different source of fiber or protein — chicken, fish, meat, beans — was featured, always with a side salad and healthy dessert.

“We try our best to make it [as] healthy as possible and tasty at the same time,” she explained.

“It’s a plate that’s varied, it’s colorful,” added Labiba, a worker at Rawdat-al Toufoula School who helps serve the lunches from Mommy Made. “It’s something that they’re not used to.”

Cold lunches worked best for students at Habbouch Public School in southern Lebanon so, each weekday, the female staff of the Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative assembled and delivered bag lunches — a fresh sandwich, piece of fruit and a bottle of water.

Most days you could find the children enjoying their sack meals together on the playground.

“Some of them feel this is their main meal for the day. Their parents aren’t able to give them this much food,” said Linda Teto, a kindergarten teacher at Rawdat-al Toufoula School. “They came from poor families. They hardly have any money. They can’t provide this much food.”

“The food is filling them up with energy so they can concentrate,” she added. “When they’re hungry they can’t really pay attention.”

The guarantee of a balanced meal also increased students’ attendance and encouraged parents to choose education over child labor as they saw their household food costs decrease. On average, affected families were able to reallocate 10-15 percent of their income, per student, to other basic needs.

“The impact has been that the children are coming to school more frequently,” said Lynn. “They’re gaining weight, which is great. They’re energetic, they’re happier in general. They’re how kids should be. Not hungry.”

And because all the services and ingredients for the lunch program were sourced locally, it created more than 40 new jobs and pumped tens of thousands of crucial dollars into the Lebanese economy.

Throughout the course of a few months, our partners provided over 37,000 lunches to thousands of young students in Lebanon, giving them the fuel they needed to learn, grow and succeed, regardless of their family’s culture, background or income level.

“Some of the kids had enough food, but some didn’t. It depends on the child,” said Ms. Teto of the days before the program. “I used to tell them to share their food so that everyone would get some food. So none of them would feel that they were missing.”

“Now they feel they are equal. They eat the same thing. They say, ‘You have the same food that I do. We’re equal now.’

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Aug 14, 2015

Bold murals help youth heal and inspire

  • murals to beautify their communities. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptAR

Through an art therapy project, youth in Gaza learned how to express themselves and created 11 colorful murals to beautify their communities. Photo: Samantha Robinson/apt/ART

 

Most young people in Gaza over the age of seven have suffered through at least three wars in their short lives. War is an almost-constant reality, and families struggle to earn a living, support their children, and pick up the pieces after conflict flares.

The trauma of last summer’s fighting is still fresh and haunting. People were displaced from their homes, and even the youngest survivors saw horrific violence. But despite the circumstances, life goes on in Gaza — and people look for a reason to hope again.

At a Mercy Corps summer program, youth in Gaza are finding new ways to heal and bring peace to their communities. Many children and youth, traumatized by conflict, struggle to express how they feel about the war and their future.

But through art therapy workshops, the voices of Gaza’s youth are emerging from the darkness. They are strong, thoughtful and resilient. Working with teachers trained in art therapy, the participants learned how to express themselves through drawing during the first sessions.


One of the finished murals, "I see beauty," painted on 70-year-old Zalah's gate. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART

Soon after, they took their newfound skills to the streets of Gaza. With help from professional artists and our partner aptART, the group adorned walls and gates in their neighborhoods with bold, vibrant murals.

In painting the murals, the students visualized their thoughts about conflict, family and hope for a better future. “While I was holding the brush and painting all I felt was joy,” said 10-year-old Doonia.

Their work has inspired hope in the community, too — bringing beauty and color to neighborhoods wrought with scars from past conflicts.

“People driving by in cars stop to see the painting because it’s so beautiful,” said 70-year-old Zalah, the owner of a gate the group painted. “People have started coming from all over Gaza — I am so proud that they chose to paint this beautiful muralon my gate.”

Learn more about what art means to youth in Gaza, in their own words:

Yousef, 14


Yousef, left, paints where he wants to travel someday on one of the murals. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART

“Through the activities I learned how to use different types of art to express my fears, my hopes, and everything else that I usually hold inside. For first time I felt like I was able to express how I feel.

My favorite drawing is on the mural in the harbor. We had to draw somewhere we wanted to travel, and I decided to draw the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem because I dream of traveling there one day.”

Sabrine, 13


Note: Sabrine is not pictured. The finished mural "I see you. Do you see me?" Photo: Mercy Corps

“During the sessions I felt like I could draw all of my thinking, my fears, and even the vision I have for my life after the war. Before the sessions I hated drawing, now I love it and want to continue to use drawing to express my thoughts.

Now the thing I love to do most is to try and draw realistically like Falk [artist] does, except with landscapes instead of eyes. I take a picture and then try to draw as realistically as I can.

For the mural ‘We See Hope in our Children’s Eyes’ we were asked to paint what we wanted to see happen in the future. My dream is to travel outside of Gaza, so I chose to write ‘I see myself traveling all over the world.’”

Abdullah, 11


Abdullah draws his hopes and dreams on one of the murals. Photo: Samantha Robinson/aptART

“The sessions allowed me to start expressing myself through the pictures I drew. One day my older brother said he wanted to take me to another summer camp, I told him ‘no, I don’t want to go because this is my favorite summer camp ever.’ I hope that the sessions continue and next time I will ask all of my friends to join.”

Ghaida, 13


Ghaida stands with the mural titled "I see strength." Photo: Mohammed Abu Assi/Mercy Corps

“Before, when I felt like I wanted to express myself, I didn’t know how to put what I felt into words — I would end up frustrated and not say anything at all. When we started drawing our feelings I felt like life changed for me and I was able to start sharing what I was thinking.

Now, after the activities, I feel like I can share how I feel freely. I feel happier and I have hope for the future. When I walk by the paintings on the street I remember every minute I spent working on them and all of the happy memories.”

Nagham, 12


Nagham holds her favorite artwork from the art therapy workshops. Photo: Mohammed Abu Assi/Mercy Corps

“When you ask any child in Gaza, they will tell you what they are most affected by is the last war. Since the war I get nervous about small or simple things and I don’t know why. The comforting environment and how everyone worked together and helped each other during the sessions made me feel safe and my nervousness went away.

Now, I am still quiet, but I have not been getting nervous like I used to and I am calm instead. I am going to continue to use drawing as a way to express my feelings. My next project is to make up my own story and draw the pictures that go with the story.

Before, I felt like no one could hear me, even when I would try to talk to people no one would listen to me. During the sessions, I felt like someone was actually listening to me and actually cared how I felt, which made me incredibly happy. I kept all of my drawings so I can remember everyone and this wonderful experience.”


A young girl paints a large canvas with other participants during an art therapy session. Photo: Mercy Corps

Nagham and Sabrine’s mother has noticed a positive change in her daughters since they participated in the art therapy project. “The most important thing they learned in the sessions was how to start expressing themselves. I can see the difference it made in my girls — they felt like someone actually noticed them and cared about them and it has made them so happy,” she said.

“The first time I saw one of the walls, I wished I had a pen and I could write everything I feel and express myself openly like they did. Every word, every scratch on the murals is a story. When I look at the murals they made I don’t see the children that drew them, I see thousands of stories.”

To see artwork and photographs created by youth in Gaza in person, visit the Mercy Corps Action Center in Portland, Oregon. The aptART exhibit Finding Place opens on September 17th and will be on display until December 2015.

Aug 14, 2015

What do refugees need after leaving everything?

  • Syrian refugees in Jordan have few options to support themselves, making it difficult to purchase even the most basic necessities, like food. Mercy Corps distributes essential supplies to help vulnerable families meet their basic needs. All photos: Sumaya Agha for Mercy Corp

Syrian refugees in Jordan have few options to support themselves, making it difficult to purchase even the most basic necessities, like food. Mercy Corps distributes essential supplies to help vulnerable families meet their basic needs. All photos: Sumay Agha for Mercy Corps

 

 

Imagine fleeing your home with little more than the clothes on your back and what few items you can carry. You are running for your life — forced to leave your house, job, school, car, belongings and memories behind.

This is the reality for 4 million Syrians who have fled to neighboring countries for safety from the war that has ravaged their nation for more than four year

Once they cross the border — empty-handed and in a foreign land — how do they make due?

Below, learn about some of the essential items Mercy Corps provides to Syrian refugees living in host communities and camps in Jordan. The supplies help the most vulnerable refugee families survive and cope after losing so much.

It is illegal for Syrians to work in Jordan. Without livelihood opportunities, refugees struggle to purchase even the most basic necessities. We distribute food items like pasta, cooking oil and milk, to help them feed their families.

Cooking utensils and dishes help refugees prepare safe, nutritious meals. The tools also give Syrian families the opportunity to keep an important part of their culture alive — cooking and socializing around food.

Hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and razors are essential to helping refugees, who often live in crowded or makeshift shelters, stay clean and healthy.

Life doesn’t stop when someone becomes a refugee — people still have happy milestones like getting married or having a baby. We make sure parents have newborn supplies — bottles, blankets, diapers, formula — to care for the new addition to their family.

Children don’t stop growing, either. There is a constant need for clothing in refugee communities, especially for quickly growing youngsters.

Educational resources are limited for young Syrians in Jordan, and getting children into school can be challenging. When kids do get registered, school supplies like pencils, rulers, notebooks and backpacks are crucial to their ability to learn and succeed.

Stuffed animals are a small joy for children who have been uprooted from their homes, schools and friends — and forced to leave their toys behind.

Whether they're living in host communities or refugee camps, it's essential that refugee children have opportunities to grow, learn and continue their development. We providebooks for kids to read in the Child Friendly Spaces we maintain in Zaatari camp.

We also provide soccer shoes to children who play on the sports fields in Zaatari. Safe places to play, like the Child Friendly Spaces and the camp sports fields, help refugee children heal from trauma and feel a sense of normalcy.

This work is made possible thanks to support from UNICEF, UK Aid, and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, as well as generous donors like you.

How you can Help:

Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more support to Syrian families in desperate need of help.

Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.

Stay informed. Read more stories about our work and those we are helping on Mercy Corps' Syria Crisis Response page. See link below.

Links:

 
   

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