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Volume 10, No. 1SPRING 2007

Material and Mental Healing for Lebanese Students

Souane Elementary is one of 23 schools that IOCC is committed to restoring in four districts in south Lebanon — Marjeyoun, Hasbayya, Bint Jbeil and Tyre — with $3.7 million in funding from the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Photo: IOCC Lebanon

SOUANE, LEBANON — Scan the faces of children gathered for a break outside Souane Elementary School and you see that life is slowly returning after the traumatic 34-day conflict last summer that left Lebanese villages bombed, roads destroyed and thousands injured and dead.

For 20 days, students at the public elementary school could not use their building because it was very badly damaged in the fighting, said Farid Hamra, a construction specialist for IOCC.

“Most of the schools were hit directly,” Hamra said, adding that the average budgeted for the schools is $20,000. The repair work is being done using contractors obtained through a bidding process carried out via ads placed in local newspapers.

All of the windows were broken, and the school had shrapnel throughout, said Hamra. Yet with the help of IOCC and $13,000 in repairs, including electrical and sanitary work, painting and maintenance, the school is open again.

“Today the children are doing okay. They are singing, even when they hear airplanes,” kindergarten teacher Oussama Mzanniar said recently. Souane is one of 23 schools that IOCC is committed to restoring in four districts in south Lebanon — Marjeyoun, Hasbayya, Bint Jbeil and Tyre — with $3.7 million in funding from the U.S. Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). IOCC’s commitments also include non-food relief supplies to 2,900 vulnerable families and water and sanitation projects in 30 villages. The villages are located south of the Litani River, the area that is closest to the Israeli border and that suffered the most damage during last July’s war.

For proof that the relief effort is working, simply look at 10-year-old Hussein Sultan, who was injured when an unexploded bomb went off while he and friends played near a home in the Souane area that was destroyed in the fighting. Sultan survived, although one of his friends was not as lucky. And though he spent a number of days in the hospital being treated for metal shrapnel in his lungs, he is now back with the other children at Souane.

Much is improving, there are success stories, and most agree there is still considerable work left to do, particularly in terms of psychological healing in areas closest to where the fighting took place. Many say activities like art, movies and plays will go a long way toward helping the children heal their trauma. The OFDA grant will also allow IOCC Lebanon to provide psychological counseling to about 90,000 women and children.

The students are not fully recovered, said Khalil Haider, a principal at Aaitaroun Elementary School, another school that IOCC is repairing near the Israel-Lebanon border, where some of the most intense fighting occurred. “They are not feeling safe…They have a strong fear.” More psychosocial programs including entertainment and music are needed, stressed Haider, whose school was so badly damaged that it needed $24,500 in repairs. “If we can provide a small smile, it will give a lot for a depressed student,” he said.

Excerpted from an article by Toya Richards Hill for Action by Churches Together (ACT) International. IOCC is a member of ACT, a global alliance of churches and related agencies responding to emergencies worldwide.

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