The Friendly Center is a vibrant, welcoming space for refugee kids that provides critical childhood wellness through education, therapy, and play. Tucked in a corner of a camp for Syrian families who fled war, this space provides critical development opportunities that refugee life simply cannot offer.
Today we’re peeling back the curtain to share firsthand staff reports from the Friendly Center, to highlight just how much impact it has for the kids who come here.
Singing, reading, and playdough are just some of the ways this space is mending the wounds of war for some of its youngest, most vulnerable survivors.
Aras’s family fled Syria in 2012, before he was born. Like so many other preschoolers in the camps, Aras only knows life as a refugee. But in October, Aras’s little life got a little brighter when he started attending the Friendly Center.
Aras is considered a “vulnerable case” and is supported by a child protection unit at the Friendly Center. This component of the Friendly Center provides a social worker, giving extra support to children with disabilities, those who have exhibited symptoms of self-harm, have health problems, special needs, are not attending school, are particularly traumatized, or in poverty. They also help connect high needs kids with psychological and medical support both in and out of Iraq.
Aras loves singing and playing. He used to be hyperactive, but now he is showing notable progress through his time at the Friendly Center and with the support of the child protection unit. Aras is calmer and starting to communicate more normally. He plays with other children and, like a lot of kids his age, loves bicycles and football.
War not only disrupts a child’s life, but their education as well. Many of the children at the friendly center are behind in their schooling or struggle with reading. The Friendly Center gives kids a chance to reclaim their education, their future.
A staff member, Newal, shared with us, “Today when I was in the library with the children I asked ‘Who can read the story to me?’ Everyone said ‘Yes!’ Then I gave the book to one of the children and she held the book up for the children to see and ‘read’ the story using the pictures. Then another child wanted to read a book to the group too! This is so good to see—children using pre-reading skills and sharing books with other children!”
You may remember Janda, a WorkWell graduate who’s been providing for her family ever since they fled war five years ago. Janda now teaches at the Friendly Center, facilitating interactive learning with the kids.
Recently Janda reported, “When the children first played with bricks, they would put three on top of each other and say, ‘House!’ Now… when the children play with bricks, they spend more time building. The houses and are made of lots of bricks used in different ways.” Janda has seen the way the kids have progressed in their attention span and their building abilities.
Janda also leads small group sessions in making playdough. At one session, 16 children sat around a table, and not one left the activity because they were so engrossed in what was happening.
Janda asks the children questions, invites their help in counting, and calls on different children up to help pour ingredients and stir the mixture. The children learn about colors and are able to take small balls of playdough home with them afterward.
Most of the children at the Friendly Center have only known life inside a refugee camp, a life of transition and trauma and upheaval. The Friendly Center provides safety and space for kids to play and learn—and experience a bit of a normal childhood.