Spark in her eyes: Maya's story

"Maya* is a 7-year-old Syrian girl, suffering from many physical disabilities. No school or centre would enroll her into their programs given her special needs, despite her mother’s best efforts. This meant she stayed at home and was unable to form any kind of a social life or get an education. This led her to be an introvert, shy and unable to express her feelings," Yamen tells us, a facilitator from the Peace Education program in Shatila, Lebanon. He goes on to say:

"Maya’s mother found out about the Peace Education program run by International Alert and Basmeh and Zeitooneh, and decided to enroll her.

In the first few sessions, we could see that she found it hard to adjust to her new surroundings and situation, despite this she wanted to continue attending the sessions since it was the only safe space where she experienced no stigma, judgment or bullying.

After a while we could see her start to develop, which led us to add her to the second cycle of sessions.

With the help of her friends and the facilitators, at the sessions, Maya developed some basic communications skills and started to express her feelings, despite having speech difficulties. She participated in the activities, answered the questions addressed to her and remembered the dates of the sessions. She began to grow and develop psychologically.

She became more accepting of others and expressed her feelings with others regularly, her happiness or sadness.

The psychological change she encountered influenced her physical movement, she started to walk and run, knowing and accepting the harsh truth of the difference between her body and the other’s bodies.

Maya flourished in the sessions where she was able to paint and play with Lego and clay, despite the difficulty she has using her hands. They were activities that challenged her, excited her, allowed her to build and be creative and made her feel relaxed, accepted and safe.

Maya is still growing and developing, her performance as part of a social initiative was amazing, she wanted to be a funny, make people laugh and be a clown. Her mother was very proud when she was watching her, she literally cried from happiness."

Maya’ mother also tells us about the incredible change she noticed in her daughter:

"She used to be very shy and confused whenever someone said her name. She was an introvert because of her physical disabilities, she didn't speak with anyone and didn't move from her place, but sometimes she used to get angry at people for no reason. She also had problems with her bones so she couldn't walk or run properly.

Many doctors told me that she needs to go to school but I couldn't find a school that could take her. I went from a place to place asking if they have any programs that would fit her situation, with no luck. Then I met Assem, a facilitator from the Peace Education program with Basmeh and Zeitooneh, he was the only one to tell me he could and would register her.

I wanted to get Maya out of the house and interact with other people and children, to help her overcome her loneliness and sadness. After Maya attended a few of the Peace Education sessions I started to notice many changes. Her appetite for food increased, she started to eat more and started to drink milk, something she refused to do before. She has also become less shy, she used to cry if someone bothered her but now she tells me right away. She is more independent, she knows and understands her body and can control her movements.

She's stronger than ever now, even all my neighbors have told me that she has changed. Maya knows how to express her feelings, I have never seen her talking and expressing herself like this before, she has even learned how to hold a pen in her hands! Now I let her walk alone if there are no cars in the streets, without the constant fear that she may fall.

When you look into Maya’s eyes there’s a spark of happiness now and that is enough for me, it makes me very happy.

I wish the sessions were longer and didn't end because she was benefiting from it a lot. Now she is back at home with nothing to do.”

Over the course of a year and with the support of The Body Shop, 770 children have benefited from the Peace Education sessions. The sessions gave the children a safe space to play, express themselves and process their feelings about the conflict. It also helped to improve their resilience in the face of violence and displacement and heal through play, art and theatre activities. These important sessions continue to take place in several parts of Lebanon and with your help, we could reach even more children.

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The Body Shop

Thank you to The Body Shop for their support and to everybody who purchased gifts from The Body Shop's Christmas and Ramadan gift set collections, because of you this project was able to continue for another year in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon helping Maya and other children like her.

Read Mostapha's story

*name changed