How War in the Middle East Impacts Children in Jordan and Lebanon

OneChild’s partners in the Middle East share insights on conditions in Jordan and Lebanon, and how Child Champions are helping children there cling to hope in times of crisis.

BY BONNIE WELLENSIEK, CHILD CHAMPION, U.S.A. | PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHILD CHAMPIONS


The events unfolding in the Middle East are alarmingly close to home for the children in Lebanon and Jordan where OneChild has been helping kids in hard places for more than two decades.

As we pray for children throughout the region, it helps to know more about the day-to-day circumstances children are facing. So we spoke with our Middle East partners from Heart of Mercy to bring you a firsthand perspective on how the current crisis is impacting the children, their families, and their Child Champions.

We can’t wave a magic wand and take away all the anxiety and fear,” says Hannah, a Child Champion who has been serving kids in the Middle East for more than 15 years. “But we can help hold some of that for the children and be a safe place for them to bring those feelings and to know the camaraderie of saying, ‘We’re in this together.’”

Khouloud, Child Champion in Lebanon.

 

 

Hannah, originally from the U.S., has served kids throughout the region, and especially in Jordan, for most of her adult life. Khouloud, from Lebanon, left a career in business several years ago to coordinate all of OneChild’s work in Lebanon. Khouloud’s husband, Bob, a longtime partner and friend of OneChild, also serves as a volunteer.

These Child Champions have seen crisis after crisis, including economic and political upheavals, impact the children in the Middle East, where peace always feels precarious.

Helping Lebanese Children Cope in Time of War

When Oct. 7, 2023, ushered in war between Israel and Hamas, the people of Lebanon immediately feared the worst. The country has experienced devastating wars in the past, and many believed that full-scale war in their country was around the corner.

Conflict is currently limited to areas along the southern border. But because Lebanon is a small country, nearly every family — even those in other areas — have lost a friend or family member.

“The Lebanese people reach a point where it’s like we freeze,” says Bob. “We don’t have any emotions anymore.”

He tells us there is a local expression that means people cope by becoming thick-skinned like a crocodile. But even that thick skin has its limits. People have scrambled to stockpile whatever food and medicine they can in case they aren’t able to leave their homes. Television coverage in Lebanon and Jordan is more graphic than in the U.S., and children are regularly exposed to images of death and destruction, which can leave them traumatized.

“The children ask a lot of questions, like ‘What will happen next?’” says Khouloud.

Thanks to sponsors, kids in the OneChild program are able to continue attending school, which gives them a much-needed sense of normalcy and routine.

Lebanon kids in school - OneChild

Children in a classroom in Lebanon.

 Hannah says that just being at school sends a comforting message to the kids:

‘You will have support. You’ll have friends, you’ll have a safe place here. We’re here for you if you need to talk. It’s OK. You can come here scared and worried, and we’re going to do all we can to help you.’ And I think that’s very reassuring emotionally for kids when they’re in a situation like this.”

Sharing the Hope of Peace in Jordan

Kids in Jordan aren’t experiencing the same fear of violence as the children in Lebanon. But children are regularly exposed to intense feelings of anger and grief over the conflict in the region.

“They don’t really have anywhere to put that,” says Hannah. “That’s been the biggest challenge [in Jordan].”

But Hannah also shares how the hand of providence helped Child Champions lay the groundwork in advance for kids to see another view.

Children in the OneChild program in both Lebanon and Jordan get to attend a summer day camp where they experience a time of fun and learning with their Child Champions.

“Every year we have a theme for our summer camp,” says Hannah. “And this past summer our theme was Peace. We didn’t know this next round of violence was coming. But we believe in the importance of peace and in the God of peace. In our everyday lives, and in our society.

“And so, we were teaching these young people about that. And not six months later, the region seems to be without peace again. But before that happened, there were hundreds of kids who went through the summer camps and had the opportunity to have these seeds of peace planted in their hearts so that there’s an opportunity for them to have something much more beautiful for their future.”

A Storm of Crises in Lebanon

For children in Lebanon, hope is needed more than ever. The current conflict is just the latest in an unrelenting series of crises that have pummeled the country in recent years.

In 2019, widespread demonstrations led to a political and economic crisis. Inflation soared as banks collapsed and the currency lost value. The global pandemic that began in 2020 compounded the situation, with daily workers, schools, and the health care system all severely impacted.

Then, in August 2020, a massive warehouse of fertilizer in the Beirut harbor exploded, killing more than 200, wounding thousands, and devastating a third of the city. As a result, the government resigned.

This storm of crises plunged families across the country into poverty. According to a 2021 United Nations report,* more than 80% of the population was living in poverty. Electricity is unreliable, and food, fuel, and other basics have become unaffordable for many.

*UN News Lebanon: Almost three-quarters of the population living in poverty

“The one whose salary used to make $1,000 or $2,000, now his salary [is worth] like $40,” says Bob. “The only people who make it during this situation — they are very few — are the people who receive salaries in U.S. dollars.”

In these circumstances, the support of OneChild and other nonprofit organizations has been a lifeline for most of the country.

“They are what is helping the Lebanese people to at least have food,” says Bob. Hannah tells us that inflation in Jordan has also been increasing, though not as severely as in Lebanon.

“The cost of goods is rising rapidly, and salaries simply aren’t keeping up,” she says. “So, poverty has been increasing. It’s been more challenging for families to have enough food. Food scarcity has become an increasing issue that’s being felt in Jordan.”

Besides meals at school, families of kids in the OneChild program in both Lebanon and Jordan have been receiving regular food packages to help them get by. Our partners also sent two shipping containers of medical supplies and clothes for the children in Lebanon.

Food support in Lebanon.

Keeping Kids in School

 

The unique challenges of serving children in the Middle East demand a strategic approach. So OneChild and our partners work through select schools in both Lebanon and Jordan where families struggle with the cost of educating their children. The support provided by sponsors often makes the difference between a child receiving a quality education or no education at all.

Read more about how sponsorship opens the door to education.

Khouloud tells us that in Lebanon many parents can no longer afford to pay school fees because they are faced with the choice between feeding their children or educating them.

“They cannot do both,” says Khouloud. “So of course, the most important is to feed them.”

The schools we work with told parents to send children even if they couldn’t pay, but the loss of payments left the schools in financial distress.

“Even the teachers in the schools, they are suffering, because their salary is nothing right now,” says Khouloud.

However, children enrolled in the OneChild program receive the help needed to ensure their school fees are paid, which helps not only the enrolled children, but the stability of the entire school.

Our partners also help the school with additional support when possible, and Khouloud has been providing supplemental training for teachers and administrators, helping them work with the children more effectively.

Since electricity and fuel supplies for generators are unreliable, our partners have helped some of the schools convert to solar power. At one school they equipped the school courtyard with additional Wi-Fi routers, making it a place where families without power at home can come to charge their phones and use the Wi-Fi to keep in touch with family members living elsewhere.

At summer camps, kids in the OneChild program also have the opportunity to escape the pressures of day-to-day life for a time. There they enjoy games, crafts, and time with friends, as well as lessons and stories from their Child Champions that help them grow spiritually and learn good values.

Summer camp is a chance for kids to escape daily pressures.

Supporting Children in Trauma

Khouloud says that the children we serve live in areas that were always hard. But now they have become even harder.

She says the economic crisis in Lebanon is also contributing to the breakup of families, as mothers or fathers buckle under the stress and leave the home. She tells us of a boy she helped who was experiencing anxiety after his mother left.

“He was asking, ‘Why did she leave me? Why can’t I see her?’” says Khouloud. “It isn’t easy for them.”

The boy has since received counseling, and his counselor is helping him use art therapy to process his feelings.

At this year’s summer camps, Khouloud could also see the toll financial hardship is taking on the children.

“I can say these kids are traumatized in a way,” says Khouloud. “And they know what is happening. They know that their parents say they are suffering. They say, ‘No, we don’t have this because we don’t have money. We don’t have a fridge because we don’t have any money to pay for a fridge or because we don’t have electricity.’ They miss their mother. Or some of them don’t have a father, so they miss their father, and they are under anxiety.”

During the last summer camp, Khouloud brought in a counselor to lead a session on child protection. During the session, the children began talking and sharing their worries.

With the outbreak of war in the region, kids already dealing with the strain of poverty were plunged into a new level of fear and anxiety. So Child Champions have been intentional about staying in closer contact with the families of the children to know how best to help them.

In all of this, Khouloud reminds us of the need for prayer.

Pray for us,” she says. “For the country, for the schools, for our families, and for the people in this country. Because they are really suffering.”

A Valley of Hope

Hannah pleads with us to keep our eyes and hearts open to the people of the Middle East, who she has come to know and love.

“There is so much more kindness, warmth, and hospitality than you may have ever dreamed possible,” she says.

“The families of these children we support — you could walk into any home that is struggling to put food on their table, and if you walk in as a guest, they want to make sure that you have food, that you have shelter, that you are cared for; and they’ll do that at the expense of themselves.

“Doing this work is the seed of the dream,” says Hannah. “We are making sure that we’re putting something in the ground that in the future can grow peace, a life free of poverty, and something that is much more beautiful, so that hope can really thrive here in this place.

There is another story underneath what we see on the news. That story is the one that has the potential to turn this place of turmoil and chaos into a valley of hope.”