On November 19th I traveled with art therapist Myra Saad and Kayany Foundation representative Firas Suqi to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Situated there on land rented from local farmers are a series of tent encampments housing recent Syrian refugees. Although a relatively new foundation, Kayany is only days away from opening its third school in the region. It's a remarkable accomplishment, providing direct benefit to children, many of whom haven't been inside a classroom for up to three years.
We were granted access to one of the schools to conduct art-based interviews with two small groups of children. This was my first time working with Myra, and I'm very pleased to say that we will be continuing our partnership for the remainder of my time in Lebanon and hopefully beyond. Myra is one of a handful of art therapists working in Lebanon, and as luck would have it, she earned her MA in Expressive Therapies from Lesley University in Boston under the guidance of War-Toys consultant Dr. Julia Byers. Although she and Julia have remained close since, because of my busy work schedule before the trip, neither knew that I would be in Lebanon. It's only through a mutual friend in Beirut that we met. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to bring a devoted art therapist onto the project.
I've worked with some brilliant, well-trained professionals in the past, but Myra brings an entirely new level of expertise. The interview sessions with the children have been positive, empowering, and energetic. The results can be seen in the drawings and, more importantly, in faces of the boys and girls that participate. Despite sharing moments from their lives that were potentially traumatizing, they leave the sessions with smiles and waves.
Art-interviews were conducted with two groups of children, ages 8-12. Most came from middle class neighborhoods in Homs and Aleppo. Many had seen extreme hardship, losing close family members and friends. A few even had bullet scars and other signs of physical trauma. The things they witnessed came through in the drawings, often very directly. Below is a boy being shot in the leg.
Other times, it took Myra's patient interaction to learn personal stories behind the drawings. Below is a fairly innocuous scene of a girl's family at dinner in Syria. Aside from showing her longing for the safety and stability of her home, the drawing depicts the girl's last memory of her father alive. He got up from the dinner table after hearing shots outside and was killed while investigating.
The accounts are so powerful that it's taking me some time to process and decide how best to recreate them. Despite the camps being situated within sight of the Syrian border, due to the security situation and extreme danger to western media, I won't be traveling to the places shown in the children's drawings. Instead, I'll be working in areas known to them now. The important thing is to get their stories right. I feel a tremendous responsibility.
Seen below is a drawing made by a little girl of herself, Myra, and me alongside a tree. She presented it as a token of gratitude.
My sincere gratitude goes to all of the children that participated, the Kayany Foundation, Nora Jumblatt, Firas Suqi, Myra Saad, and local staff at the schools.