In the impoverished refugee camps of Lebanon’s northern Akkar region, dental health care isn’t much more than a dream for young Syrians. A UNHCR survey found that Syrian refugee children are four times less likely to receive dental health care than the local Lebanese host community. In the harsh conditions of refugee camps, oral health tends to take a backseat to more primary concerns.  

“Ideally, kids should get regular dental health check-ups,” said Abdo Sharrouf, a father of five who fled Syria two years ago. “But we can’t afford that with the poor conditions we’re living in.”

With funding from Direct Relief, ANERA has expanded its Pearl Beads oral health project to give even more refugees dental care. The program entails teeth screening and treatment for children in more than 10 locations in northern Lebanon. It will focus on kids living in tented settlements and will benefit over 300 children from ages 3 to 12.

Colorful Clowns Teach Kids How to Brush their Teeth

Syrian refugee children watch clowns performing proper dental health care in Lebanon.

Actor Elie Njeim performs the show’s finale, which included an acrobatics and a magic show.

The Pearl Beads program also includes health awareness activities designed to entertain young refugees. One activity is an educational circus show with colorful clowns, props and even a full-blown circus tent.

Through their comedic performance, the clowns teach children how to practice proper dental hygiene and make nutritional food choices. The performances take place in eight different tented settlements, where they are sure to shine against the hardships of growing up in a refugee camp.

ANERA #GivingTuesday: Envision a brighter future for refugees in Palestine and Lebanon

Giving Child Refugees Dental Care for the First Time

Eight-year-old Younes was spotted brushing his teeth as he returned to his tent after the show.

In a recent performance, children’s eyes sparkled with amusement as the three clowns emerged. The play told the story of three friends who face harsh conditions while living in a refugee camp. Their tent wobbles under strong winds and rain, and the small space makes it difficult to look after belongings. These are relatable circumstances for the Syrian refugee children of Lebanon. And within this familiar setting, the clowns demonstrate how to brush your teeth and pick healthy foods.

“I’m going to register my name for the upcoming screening,” said nine-year-old Aya, after watching the show in Rihaniye village. Abdo’s son, eight-year-old Younes, was spotted brushing his teeth as he returned to his tent after the show.

Hadi Deaibes, an actor that is experienced working with refugees, described the show as “specifically designed in a way to which refugee children can relate.” He added, “a circus show is a fun activity for children, and we are able to communicate and demonstrate positive health messages through a tailor-made performance.”

Syrian refugee children learn about dental care in Lebanon.
A clown performs for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Sedra is a Syrian refugee who took part in the educational festivities.
A 14 year old Syrian refugee Mohammad participates in the dental health program for refugees.
Syrian children join in ANERA's project to bring refugees dental care in Lebanon.
Clowns teach Syrian refugees dental care.
Clowns performed for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.
Performances teach refugees dental care in Lebanon.
Actors teach syrian refugees dental hygiene

Children living in impoverished refugee camps rarely get to be entertained -- and learn good health practices at the same time.

Children marveled at Hadi Deaibes' performance, which included juggling, magic, s top hat and more.

Sedra is a Syrian refugee who took part in the educational festivities.

Mohammad, left, is a 14-year-old from Syria participating in fun activities at ANERA's event on oral health.

Syrian children and youth from Akkar came to attend ANERA's oral health project.

Hadi Deaibes performs for the children in the audience -- as well as their families watching from above.

The clowns performed a story about living in a tent, in order to make it relatable to refugee children.

Syrian refugee children and their families laughed and learned about oral health through fun performances.

Actors Suha Nader and Hadi Deaibes perform their comical and educational routine for the Syrian refugee children of northern Lebanon.

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Five-year old Layan walks through and plays in the rubble-strewn streets of Beit Hanoun every day. Her shoes take a beating every time she goes out. Last year she got her first pairs of TOMS Shoes and Boots and she wore them until they didn’t fit anymore. Like many children in her village, she doesn’t have access to basic necessities like food and outerwear. That’s why she is so happy to be getting another pair of TOMS now.

Beit Hanoun is one of Gaza’s poorest and most war-ravaged towns. It lies along Gaza’s northern buffer zone, near Israel, and suffered large-scale destruction in the last three wars. Unemployment is the highest in Gaza, which itself has the highest rate in the world, at 40 percent.

When Layan’s father Mohammad needed cash to support his family, he knocked on all the doors of Beit Hanoun looking for any odd job. After finally getting a construction job in Khan Younis, he was tragically killed when a building collapsed. Mohammad was only 32 years old and was expecting a son. His widow named the son Mohammad when he was born months later.

Gaza TOMS Shoe Delivery Eases Life for Poor Families

Gaza TOMS shoes delivery brought shoes to kids like Layan, who couldn't afford them.

The first thing Layan did when she got her new TOMS shoes was go to the playground.

Some of the financial stress on Layan’s family was relieved recently when shoe manufacturer TOMS gave two pairs of shoes to the little girl. The gift was among 50,100 other pairs of shoes distributed throughout Gaza by ANERA. New shoes protect children’s feet from being injured and from infections caused by trash and sewage.

“Right after we got the new shoes, my classmates and I went out to play,” said Layan. “We jumped so high!”

Now Layan can run around with her friends and go to school safely. “The streets are full of dirt. I’m so I happy to have these,” she said. After breaking in her shoes on the playground, she ran to a kiosk down the road to buy candies for her friends.

“She is the loveliest person on earth,” beams her kindergarten teacher, Hala Hellis. “She is smart, active and she adorably gives her baby brother a kiss when she returns home from school each day.”

Layan wants to be a schoolteacher like Hala one day. “I think she can make this happen,” said Hala. “Education will lead to a better future for Layan.”

When ANERA gave Gaza TOMS shoes, little girls like Layan could walk to school safely and keep their feet warm.

When Layan returns from school each day, she gives her little brother Mohammad a kiss hello.

Shoes as Part of a Holistic Early Childhood Development Program

“The new shoes allow Layan to attend school regularly and feel more confident among other kids,” said Rania Elhelo, communications specialist at ANERA’s Gaza office. “The shoes’ distribution will support ANERA’s early childhood programs’ holistic approach, encompassing cognitive, social, emotional and physical development and protection.” Rania noted that giving Gaza TOMS shoes comes with multiple benefits to children. It lessens the financial burden on families, enhances children’s self-esteem and restores a sense of stability for children who have lost belongings in wars.

Now that Layan has brand new shoes, she can walk to school, play with her friends and buy treats to celebrate. “When Layan and her friends gathered to play in their new shoes, they were singing, jumping and running in circles,” said Rania. “It was nice seeing the unity among all the kids, dressed in their school uniforms and wearing brand new TOMS.”

Gaza TOMS shoes delivery brings kids comfortable and warm footwear.

“It was nice seeing the unity among all the kids, dressed in their school uniforms and wearing brand new TOMS,” said ANERA’s Rania Elhelo.

When Fattoum Khasse was a young girl, she was bullied by her classmates for being overweight. The bullying got so bad it drove Fattoum to drop out of school. No one knew about the irregularity of her thyroid.

Ten years have now gone by, and Fattoum is 23. Fattoum still suffers from thyroid problems, but now she’s also a Syrian refugee with countless other difficulties. She and her family were forced to flee Aleppo and several of her close relatives died in the Syrian war. Her beloved father is mostly absent from her life because he works hard in Beirut to support their family of eight.

Fattoum lives with her family in the village of Al Masnaa, Bekaa, along the Syrian-Lebanese border. The Bekaa valley is a rural area in Lebanon with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and severely limited resources for them. The basic necessities of life, like water and shelter, are hard to come by. Young women and girls like Fattoum wouldn’t even dare to dream of recreational activities.

Girls Spread the Word on Sports for Development in Lebanon

Girls play basketball as part of sports for development in Lebanon.

Nour, Sawsan and Huda became good friends after meeting in the basketball course in Bar Elias, Lebanon.

One day over the summer, Fattoum’s cousin told her about a free Zumba class offered by ANERA in the nearby village of Majdal Anjar. Fattoum quickly jumped at the opportunity to get active and have fun. She joined the course and signed up her sister Bushra and her neighbor Rawan, too.

“My uncle and my cousin died in the war, and I think sports can relieve some of the stress and trauma we’ve experienced,” Fattoum said. “It’s also a good way to lose weight. After just one week, I’ve already lost a kilogram (about 2 pounds),” she happily added.

ANERA offers sports courses to youth between the ages of 14-24 in throughout Lebanon. The program is implemented in partnership with UNICEF and is made possible through funding from UKAID, German Cooperation and the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Over 100 local organizations have partnered with ANERA’s program of sports for development in Lebanon.

Keeping Sports Programs Culturally Sensitive

Girls play basketball in Lebanon for sports for development.

“Back in Syria, my siblings and I collected cash to go buy a ball to play,” said Sawsan, one of the basketball players.

When it comes to girls from conservative cultures like Fattoum, ANERA considers their social context. Mixed-gender classes would be hard to sell, for example, and families stress the importance of safety when their daughters venture out in public.

“My mother and older brother were hesitant to let us join,” said Fattoum. “But the field coordinator paid us a visit and ensured them that the course was safe and close to our home.”

Most of the sports courses are gender segregated, like Fattoum’s Zumba class. Participants tend to prefer this type of course. Many girls and women also prefer to have their sports classes held during the day, and in enclosed spaces where they can unveil.

Strengthening Community Bonds with Basketball, Yoga and More

Girls play basketball in Lebanon sports for development.

Dina, Anfal, Niam, Fatima and Malak are Palestinian and Lebanese youth playing basketball together in Bekaa, Lebanon.

ANERA’s program offer more than ten different types of sports courses, including basketball, football, yoga, swimming and aerobics. This year, 650 girls and women participated. They come from the local Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian communities. The courses are one of the few places where refugees and the local population can engage in team activities and strengthen communal bonds.

Fourteen-year-old Nour joined the basketball course at Al Nahda Sports Club in Bar Elias. She quickly made friends with girls from different backgrounds, like Hoda, a Lebanese citizen, and Sawsan, a Syrian refugee from Damascus. Nour is a Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk camp in Syria and, unlike many of her peers, is not new to sports. She used to practice volleyball as a child. “I love sports,” Nour said. “It’s great to be able to learn basketball!”

Gaza farmers grow sweet potatoes.

Gaza Farms Burst With Sweet Potatoes [VIDEO]

November 8th, 2016 by ANERA

Sweet potatoes are a common treat in Gaza. Vendors on the beach sell them from boxes held above their heads, and they flourish in the local soil. Farmers can make big profits from these tasty crops.

However Gaza’s poverty and its many war-damaged farm fields prevent farmers from growing sweet potatoes. The seedlings are expensive, and bombed plots of land need extensive work to get back into shape for farming.

Prosperity Grows on Gaza Farms

Through a land restoration project, ANERA has helped 399 farming families and bring life to 214 acres of land that had been abandoned or laid fallow for years. Farmers were provided with agricultural tools, compost, training sessions and the installation of a drip irrigation system. Then, ANERA agronomists and local farmers formed a plan to harvest the crops at a time of year when they typically run short in local markets, increasing profitability. “At harvest time, we reap the benefits of hard work,” said Atta Zoerob, one of the participating farmers. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

It’s an unfortunate reality that most schools in Palestine are in bad shape. Crumbling facilities, outdoor or outdated bathrooms, and drab white walls are a common sight. And without playgrounds, kids often play in the street during recess hour.

But two West Bank schools shine against the rest. The Jalqamous boys’ school and the Hatta co-ed school have just swung open their doors with full-scale renovations. ANERA added libraries, science labs, playgrounds, and more – all the features a school should have to foster learning. The new schools are also solar-powered and fully accessible. The bigger, better new schools mean that 500 kids from the surrounding villages can get a fun and high-quality education.

A Higher Capacity for Learning

Children study in a science lab at Hatta, one of the West Bank schools recently renovated by ANERA.

The Hatta co-ed school now has its first-ever science lab, among other new facilities like a library and computer lab.

Almost 500 children get to use the brand new facilities of Hatta and Jalqamous. Hatta has a new preschool, five more classrooms, computer and science labs, a library and playground. Jalqamous also added five more classrooms, along with a new faculty room, library, computer and science lab, outdoor recreational area and boundary walls for security.

Hatta now enrolls students up to the eighth grade — it only went up to the sixth grade before the renovations. In the past, students had to travel to another town to go to middle school. As a result, many girls simply dropped out because their parents were reluctant to send them far away from home. The added grades at Hatta mean that more girls have the chance to continue their education, at least until eighth grade.

The new playgrounds are big news, too. In the politically volatile environment of the West Bank, playgrounds offer refuge to children as one of the few safe public spaces. New playgrounds at Hatta and Jalqamous ensure that students can enjoy the simple joys of childhood while going to school.

Children play in a playground added to Hatta, one of the West Bank schools recently renovated by ANERA.

Playgrounds offer a safe space for children living in a turbulent political environment like the West Bank.

“Greening” and Cutting Costs with Solar Panels

The goal is “to draw 10% of locally generated power from renewable energy by 2020.”

Sunlight is an abundant natural resource in the West Bank. The new Jalqamous and Hatta schools take full advantage of the sun with cost-efficient and energy-saving solar panels. The Palestinian Authority encourages solar-power “greening” through a renewable energy law enacted in 2015. The law permits Palestinians to use solar panels for their homes and businesses, so long as they have an official electricity account. The goal, writes Aziza Nofal in Al-Monitor, is “to draw 10% of locally generated power from renewable energy by 2020.” Not only are these new solar features better for the environment, but they help cut costs on electricity.

Accessible Features Ensure No One is Left Behind

Jalqamous and Hatta are now fully accessible, with new ramps and bathrooms for students using wheelchairs. The addition of these features make a world of difference for students that would otherwise feel excluded.

The story of Mohammad Bassam illustrates the difference these accessible features can make. His school, near the west bank village of Al-Taqwa, received similar upgrades. Now that Mohammad can move around and use bathrooms and other facilities by himself, he is motivated to get good grades and socialize with his classmates.

ANERA renovated the schools of Hatta and Jalqamous through the Palestinian Community Infrastructure Development Program (PCID). PCID aims to increase Palestinians’ access to water and sanitation as well as other medium and small scale community infrastructure needs in the health, democracy and governance, and education sectors in the West Bank and Gaza. The program is funded by USAID, which has served 200,000 Palestinian children through school infrastructure projects since 2000.