When 11-year-old Asma first enrolled in the Al-Amal school a year ago, she wouldn't play with her classmates. Located within the Rahma refugee camp where she lives in Lebanon, Asma's school is filled with 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.
A permanently fractured hip from a previous injury in her home country, Syria, made it difficult for Asma to run and jump with the other boys and girls. "Asma refused to participate in the program’s games and activities," says Ahmed Zaman, a Right To Play teacher at the Al-Amal school. "She believed she is different and does not have the same abilities as the other children."
“When Asma admitted she could not run, I was determined to help her to participate,” says Ahmed. “I wanted her to live like all of the other children and get her out of the prison in her mind. So I made her help in the planning of the sessions and act as a leader and calculate the scores.”
To gain a clearer understanding of Asma's physical capabilities, Ahmed met with her family who pointed him in the direction of the doctor facilitating Asma’s physiotherapy. “The doctor explained Asma’s physical obstacles and the activities she is able to do,” says Ahmed. “I felt success was on her side, she just needed to try and work for it.”
Armed with information, Ahmed returned to the school and asked Asma to assist him in creating unique, modified versions of the games to ensure her participation. He knew using specialized games as a learning tool would teach her and the other children about inclusion, acceptance, confidence and self-esteem. And by playing in a supportive environment, Asma and the others would feel protected and accepted, giving them a powerful sense of belonging and the opportunity to be at the centre of their own development, have fun, interact with one another and test their limits.
“The life skills we teach our children transfer the good in people to others,” explains Ahmed. “It means the children share the experiences they learn with others.”
The first activity Ahmed put into 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.
"I was surprised at how courageous Asma was and that she decided to participate in the game," says Ahmed. "She started jumping and the children supported her. She forgot her difficulties and joined in like the rest of her classmates."
By adapting the games to Asma's needs, Ahmed 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 Ahmed. "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."
“Education is the human’s immortality,” he adds. “Because through education you are keeping the spark from one generation to another and when education stops, the spark fades away.”
Story by Adriana Ermter; Photography by Janine Chehade