Five-year-old Hajar is known around World Vision’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) centre for her smile. Whenever one of the teachers calls out her name or addresses her in any way, she answers back with her big smile and then speaks. But Hajar was not always the happy child she is now. After a difficult beginning, she only began to smile again two years ago.
Hajar, her parents’ fifth child, was born in 2013 in Aleppo, Syria. Prior to that, her father decided it would be best for him to move to Lebanon and search for a sustainable job. He visited Aleppo every chance he got, but wasn’t able to bring the family to Lebanon because the journey was too risky. His wife, Sanaa, wanted the family to be whole again, but agreed with her husband. Moreover, her mother-in-law was sick and paralyzed. “I did not want to leave her. I loved her as if she was my own mother, and I knew how fond she was of my children,” Sanaa explained.
From the minute she was born, Hajar never felt safe. Her father was not at home and her mother was constantly scared, as the clashes in Aleppo became more intense. Hajar never left her mother’s side. “She was like my shadow. If I left her sight, Hajar would go crazy,” Sanaa recalled. She felt that Hajar’s lactose intolerance and not being able to have the same snacks as her brothers and sisters affected also her personality. “Almost everything made Hajar nauseous. I was constantly worried about her,” Sanaa admitted. Even though all her siblings went through the same circumstances during the war, especially the lack of food and the terrible noise of the bombings, Hajar was the most terrified one among them.
In 2016, Sanaa’s mother-in-law passed away and the air strikes in their area increased. This is when she decided it was time to go to Lebanon. She called her husband and explained that being alone in Aleppo was too hard, and that Hajar needed more medical attention. “I told him I did not want to search for one of our children in the wreckage!” she recalled. A month later, Sanaa and her children settled with her husband in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon.
Sanaa expected Hajar to adjust to her new home quickly, but she didn’t and the fear of losing her mother was always present for the child. Even if Sanaa explained to her that she was going to the nearby store for five minutes, Hajar would still burst into tears. “I signed her for Early Education classes with World Vision. A couple of weeks later, I felt the change!” Sanaa smiled. With funds from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), World Vision’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme offers a peaceful environment where children, aged three to five, can learn through playing for a period of four months. Children are taught numbers, colors, letters, and songs in both English and Arabic. “When I first met Hajar, I knew she needed extra attention. She refused to speak or share anything with any of us,” said Narges, Hajar’s teacher at the centre. Hajar spent most of her time during the first two weeks by herself. She refused to mingle with other children and only asked for her mother. Bit by bit, she was convinced that the centre was a place where she could be herself and that the teachers provided her with care and safety. “My favorite thing is when I’m handed a paper to draw. Last time, I drew three girls,” said Hajar. “The girls are Sidra and Malak – my friends at the center – and me.” She said with a huge smile on her face. “Thank God for the teachers who understood and loved my daughter as if she was their own,” Sanaa interrupted.
Hajar waited impatiently for the bus to pick her up every day. When it arrived, she kissed her mother goodbye, held the hand of the teacher who came along with the bus driver, and headed to her classes. More than 900 Syrian refugee children like Hajar found peace and security, overcame their fears, and drew everlasting smiles on their faces, thanks to KFAS and World Vision!