The impact of equipping childcare leaders with the skills and resources to train others is hugely valuable. Kezia M’Clelland writes about how this approach is working effectively in the Middle East, in spite of ongoing instability.

The risks for children living in the Middle East were starkly spelt out in February when the UN issued a blank statement that they are “running out of words” to express the horrific realities of the situation for children following seven years of conflict in Syria. Almost nine million Syrian children are in immediate need of aid; a third are refugees.

However, as well as extreme risks to their safety, children also face risks of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, which are exacerbated by the context of conflict and instability. Whilst national child protection systems are developing there are still many gaps in the system and its capacity, resulting in many children failing to receive the support they need, or to be protected from harm.

Viva’s heart is to see all children kept safe and having the opportunity to thrive – but in complex contexts such as those in this region, it’s not always possible for Viva to use its network model. At the same time, we know there are many individuals in these places who work wholeheartedly to keep children safe.

Over the last year, I’ve trained 70 people to be Child Protection Champions in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, through partnership with MERATH and with Embrace the Middle East.

The three-day ‘training of trainers’ workshops have helped these organisations’ local partners to learn about equipping others to understand, recognise and respond to abuse, including sessions on both child protection issues and developing skills for training and facilitating adult learning.

Individuals have really appreciated the opportunity to meet with others and recognise that they are not alone. Together, these 70 ‘Champions’ are connected to organisations reaching thousands of children – meaning the potential impact is huge, especially as they have the skills and resources to train others.

One attendee told me, “The training was extremely useful and beneficial for me. For example, I am more determined not to compromise the safety and integrity of children for the sake of my friends or co-workers. I am now more determined to take measures, as appropriate, with potential incidents of child abuse.”

Following on from the training it’s been great to see the ‘Champions’ quickly take initiative and use the materials to train their own organisations.

In one centre for children with disabilities in Alexandria, Egypt, the champions trained 61 teachers in child protection within two weeks of the training, and also worked together to create a child protection policy and procedure for the centre. Another of the partners who attended the training in Egypt last December has already used the training to train six nurseries where her team works, including sessions for parents, teachers and children.

In our ongoing partnership in Lebanon and Syria, it’s been encouraging to see the ‘Champions’ influencing the projects of which they are part.

In Lebanon, one of the teachers working at an informal education project quickly used the training to train the rest of his team. He also expressed how it is helping him and the team practically deal with issues facing the children in the centre.

He told me, “One student was very aggressive in the classroom and was disturbing all of the other students. But I was able to put the training into practice in this situation, and to realise that the boy was behaving in this way because of his home situation, and the way he is treated by his father. So, instead of punishing the boy, we worked with him – giving him more responsibilities in the classroom and giving him extra support, rather than shouting at him. Now he is really responsible and helpful, and happy in the classroom.”

Our Child Protection Champions’ programme forms part of Viva’s wider child protection work, and is something we’re beginning to also use more widely with our partner networks in places such as Uganda and India.

It’s an approach that builds on 22 years of experience in working alongside local communities to develop relevant and contextual high quality responses to the risks children face.

And it’s a privilege for me to inspire and equip people to ensure children remain safe from harm for many years to come.

Kezia M’Clelland is Viva’s Children in Emergencies Specialist


Top photo: MERATH

This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 9