Beirut’s traumatised children – speechless, sleepless and separated from their parents

A week after the devastating explosion that ripped through Beirut, there are still children who are separated from their parents.

Some children have been so badly affected that they have been unable to speak, while others cannot sleep. Save the Children’s teams on the ground have heard of children who are afraid to go into the room they were in when the explosion happened.

Families are also increasingly concerned about a lack of healthy food for their children and some are living in badly damaged buildings.

These are some of the findings of an assessment conducted by Save the Children, as the charity scales up its emergency response to help families who were caught up in the blast.

The agency warned today that it is vital for children who have been left alone to be urgently reunited with parents. Being away from them at such a traumatic time, even if the children are temporarily living with extended family, can have a deeply harmful impact.

Rima Mohsen, alternative care specialist for Save the Children in Beirut, said:

“Children have experienced a terrible shock and need time to recover. They have been scared by what they have experienced and they will need someone close. Being separated from their parents can impact their mental health and recovery.”

Dalal*, 4, was without her parents for a week. Her mother was in hospital when the blast happened. Her father was at work and suffered a temporary loss of memory. Dalal* stayed with her grandparents, where Save the Children helped the family to look after the girl. She was finally reunited with her mother Hala*, 31, on Tuesday.

Hala* said:

“When the explosion happened, I was [already] in the emergency room at the hospital [for surgery]’. I flew into the air and the window broke. I got a call from my father saying my daughter was crying and screaming and asking for me.

“My husband had temporary memory loss. He had to go to the hospital and I stayed with him. I was apart from my daughter for about a week. She would call a lot and ask me, ‘When are you coming back? Are we ever going back?’

“She had never been apart from me before. She was struggling to sleep, asking after me and her father. When we were finally together, she spent thirty minutes just crying. If I stand up now to go anywhere, she asks me where I am going and doesn’t want me to leave her at all.”

Working with partners, Save the Children is supporting children who are separated from their parents. It identifies temporary alternative care for the children, ideally with relatives, and helps trace parents so that families can be reunited.

Ms Mohsen said:

“The explosion has torn families apart, and it’s vital that children are back with their parents as soon as possible. That is where they feel safe, secure. It gives them a sense of home, even if they have no home to go back to.”

To help children cope with their experiences, Save the Children and its partners are providing psychological first aid, including guidance to parents on how to talk to their children about what happened.

The assessment also found that many families are staying in apartments that are badly damaged because they have nowhere else to go. They are without electricity or any means to cook, forcing them to eat cold canned goods only, if they can afford food at all.

Jad Sakr, Save the Children’s country director in Lebanon, said: “There also is a dire need of nutritious food. Many families we came across were already struggling to survive even before the explosion hit but now the situation is even worse.

“Many small businesses have been affected, meaning livelihoods are lost. A lot of families lack money to buy food or building materials to restore their homes.”

Save the Children is providing basic food assistance and shelter by helping with the clearance of debris and repair work. It is also supporting remote learning and the repairing of schools, so children don’t fall behind on their learning. To help affected families with their livelihoods, it is giving small grants to businesses to help them recover.

To donate to Save the Children’s Beirut appeal, go to www.savethechildren.org.au/beirut.

*Names changed

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