By Janine Chehade
Asma feels like she's flying when she plays jump rope with her friends. For the first time since the 11 year old and her family fled the war in Syria to find refuge in the Rahma refugee camp in Lebanon, she feels like she belongs.
When Asma first enrolled in the Al-Amal school a year ago, she wouldn't play with her classmates. Located within the refugee camp where she lives, Asma's school is filled with her new neighbours—boys and girls who are also Syrian refugees. And yet, Asma had no friends and her lack of socialization was negatively impacting her self-esteem.
Hide and Go Seek had been her favourite game to play with friends in Syria, but a permanently fractured hip from a previous injury in her home country made it difficult for Asma to run and jump with the other boys and girls. So instead of joining in, Asma sat by herself, alone and isolated, feeling inferior and speaking with no one.
"Asma refused to participate in the games and activities," affirms Moataz Al Kharoub, a Right To Play Coach at the Al-Amal school. "She believes she is different and does not have the same abilities as the other children."
Determined to get a clearer understanding of Asma's physical capabilities, Moataz made an appointment to visit Asma's doctor. Armed with information from Asma's doctor, Moataz returned to the school and asked Asma to assist him in creating his lesson plans for the children in the program. She agreed. Together, they crafted unique lessons inclusive of modified versions of the games to ensure Asma's participation. Trained in Right To Play methodology, Moataz knew using specialized games as a learning tool would teach Asma and the other children about inclusion, acceptance, confidence and self-esteem.
Creating and maintaining a supportive environment through play, where children feel protected and accepted is crucial for all Right To Play programs. It gives children a powerful sense of belonging and the opportunity to be at the centre of their own development, enabling them to open up and learn basic life skills like respect, communication and teamwork. Play puts children at ease, allows them to have fun, interact with their peers and test their limits. Moataz was able to ensure a physically and emotionally protective space for Asma and the other children. But until she started participating, adapting the curriculum to accommodate Asma was key to her transformation.
The first activity Moataz put to practice was the jump rope game. Hanging the rope diagonally to allow a section of the rope to rest closer to the ground, Asma—along with the younger children who were formerly unable to manage some of the games' more challenging elements—was able to jump back and forth over the rope with the rest of the group. She was elated; her joy was contagious. Once Asma's classmates discovered what was happening they rallied around her in support.
"I was surprised at how courageous Asma was and that she decided to participate in the game," says Moataz. "She started jumping and her friends supported her. She forgot her difficulties and joined in like the rest of her classmates."
By adapting the games to Asma's needs, Moataz was also able to reinforce the values of inclusion and acceptance with the children. Now, all of the children take an active role ensuring every game they play is accessible to all participants, regardless of their age, size or circumstances.
"There is more participation and excitement from the class," says Moataz. "The children have more empathy, now. They all live together in one camp and share the same school and want Asma to be included in the activities."
Asma participates in all of the program games, now. She has overcome her insecurities, feels confident about her physical capabilities and has the support of her Coach and all of her new friends.