Marie Mörth: 'The big problem is that refugee children just have nothing to do'

A Child Protection Adviser for Save the Children in Beirut describes a week in the life of the relief effort in Lebanon
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The Independent Online

MONDAY

A day of co-ordination and planning. I attend a series of meetings with other agencies. I also speak to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs to check what the government is doing and how we can best work with them. Later I move from my hotel to stay with the head of our regional office. She lives here but her family has fled so she is happy to have company.

TUESDAY

More of the same. I meet the Minister for Social Affairs and learn more about what systems already exist to support children. For us to help them we need to work closely with the government.

WEDNESDAY

Finally I go into the field. I visit Jezzine, a city in the mountains south of Beirut and a centre for thousands of displaced people. Meet with local authorities and government officials to find out who is doing what. The biggest problem is the lack of activities for children. Other agencies and authorities are taking care of food and people's basic needs but there is little to occupy children. After a crisis like this, children need activities so they can relate to each other and express their feelings. In one school we visit, the kids say that as soon as they want to play, adults tell them to go away and be quiet - you can't play here. Their parents are under great stress but the children need to play and be around caring adults. I also find conditions unsuitable and even dangerous.

THURSDAY

I visit Sidon, along the coast from Beirut. It's Lebanon's second-largest city and has received many displaced people from the south. Some say there are more than 100 displacement centres here. We meet one of our Beirut-based staff who got stuck there when the fighting started. She was relieved to see us. She has been co-ordinating with our local partners, who are amazing and have been working all hours, but they're stretched. Their greatest challenge is the sheer number of people, and trying to reach them all. We find the same problems here - children have nothing to do. In the evening I return to Beirut, but heavy bombing means I barely sleep.

FRIDAY

Back to Jezzine with a colleague to check on the distribution of non-food items. We find a shortage of nappies, mattresses, sheets and other basics.

I go to three different displacement centres to talk to communities and find volunteers to start children's activities. People are very willing to help and to identify safe play areas. They confirm that the biggest problem is the lack of things for children to do. Later I meet three youth groups who are also keen to help displaced children. Some suggest first-aid training for youths in camps and others want to stage football tournaments. In the evening I go back to Beirut but return to the hotel because my colleague has left her flat. I sleep better.

SATURDAY

After another meeting I go back to Jezzine to meet our newly appointed volunteers and check the safe play areas they have chosen. We give the volunteers an orientation session on how to work with children. We tell them what to look for in children's behaviour and how to help them if they notice problems.

We also give out recreational kits that include balls, hula hoops, board games and colouring pens. We have to cut the trip short when a bomb falls nearby. We'll return later.

SUNDAY

I have my first lie-in for three weeks. Then I go to the office after lunch and start to look at the bigger picture, long term, and at different scenarios - are people going to move back? When? How do we best support those who go, and those who stay?

Today I'm quite hopeful, if people can go back. People I talk to say they're ready to go home, but not all will be able to go - their homes have been destroyed.

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