A Letter from Scott and Elmarie Parker, serving in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq
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Every “Strong Kid” gets their own puppet — and every puppet has their own story.
Yesterday, in the Middle East Council of Church’s (MECC’s) latest weekly session of “Strong Kids/Strong Emotions,” our group of Syrian and Iraqi refugee kids fashioned their own personalized puppets out of socks, pom-poms and other craft items. After putting on the finishing touches, the kids were encouraged to come up with a name and a story for their puppet — What’s your puppet’s name? What does your puppet like to do? Where is he or she from?
“Iraq!” “Syria!” — Many of the kids shouted out the places they themselves came from.
“Germany!” “Australia!” — These are some of the places they overhear their parents talking about emigrating to.
“Beirut!” — This is where all of the kids currently live.
Telling the story of their puppet is a safe way for the kids to tell their own stories: the friends and lives they left behind after their families fled, the new life in a new country to which they are still trying to adjust. “Talking about these things brings up feelings, some that are good and some that are hard,” we tell them. “It is all right to have those feelings, even the ones that hurt. It’s normal and it’s a part of you.”
“Strong Kids/Strong Emotions” is a play-based trauma resiliency program for Syrian and Iraqi refugee children now living with their families in Beirut. Sponsored by MECC and Our Lady Dispensary, “Strong Kids” uses art, storytelling and relationship-building to help vulnerable children between the ages of 7 and 13 develop the skills to heal from past trauma and thrive in the midst of current challenges.
The first pilot run for “Strong Kids” was in June of 2017, using an emotional intelligence curriculum in a kids’ club format with a group of 12 Iraqi refugee children. We are taking a more clinical approach in our current two-month stage 2 pilot run, bringing a child psychologist on board to utilize our play activities as a way to assess trauma in the Syrian and Iraqi refugee kids attending the program.
One such therapeutic activity is a telling of the “Snow White” story, allowing the kids to choose characters they identify with and tell the story in their own words. Through their choices, we are able to observe signs of potential trauma and then develop strategies to address the needs of each child.
Each “Strong Kids” pilot session provides not only a safe place for these kids to play and express themselves, but also an opportunity for them to learn how to best heal and thrive as their families hope for a new future.
Our hope is to complete our piloting and learning work by the fall of 2018, and to launch “Strong Kids/Strong Emotions” officially as a year-round program in the spring of 2019.
We and our partners at MECC are so very grateful for the many ways you, our friends and partners in the USA, have been a part of launching this program as well. Your generous gifts of crafts supplies (Wow, seeing bowls overflowing with pompoms and other creative things to use on their puppets and other craft projects is such a gift to these kids!) and finances have helped us move into this stage 2 pilot and the ones that will follow this one in the summer and fall. And, your prayers undergird our work, even as Christ’s Spirit fills us with all we need to journey with compassion, grace, and truth with these kids. Thank you.
For this stage 2 pilot, we have planned for 15 Iraqi and Syrian children to participate in a 12-week program. We meet once a week for two hours. The expenses run a bit over $420 per child for the 12-week program, or $6,320 for the entire 12-week program.
I look forward to sharing with you further as this program develops.
All of this is possible because of you and your faithful support of our ministry through World Mission. Thank you. Elmarie and I could not be here were it not for your financial support. You are enabling me to be an integral part of helping refugeed Syrian and Iraqi children gain the tools they need to move into their futures with resilient hope. Thank you for being a part of our support and sending network. Through your financial gifts, prayers, encouraging emails, visits and so many other expressions of care, you are a part of this ministry and you make it possible for us to serve with joy alongside our sisters and brothers here in the Middle East — every day these shared ministries are making a transformative difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and in the lives of this region’s future leaders. Please share with others what God is doing here, that they might join us.
Please let us know as well how we may pray for you and your congregation and presbytery.
In this Lenten Season, may our Lord’s sustaining grace renew you and fill you to overflowing with every good gift that comes from God above, and may the joy of our Lord be your strength in your own life of service.
In Christ’s name and for his glory,
Scott (for Elmarie as well)
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