Jabal Akroum is one of the poorest and most marginalized areas of Lebanon; it is remote, difficult to reach and underdeveloped. It is located high up in the mountains of the Akkar district which has seen several conflicts back-to-back; in 2006 there was the July War in which all of Lebanon was affected and in the summer of 2007 there was the more damaging Nahr Al-Bard conflict which dealt a devastating blow to the local economy. It is estimated that seventy three percent of the population of Jabal Akroum live below the poverty line.
In an attempt to care for and support the children affected by poverty and conflict in this area, HCI together with local partner Jabal Akroum Association, organized an excursion for one hundred boys and girls from eight villages in the Jabal Akroum area this August as an intervention to address their psychosocial wellbeing, which is a very important factor that if neglected can lead to reduced social connectedness, coping skills and resilience, this in turn places children at risk of isolation, apathy, drug or substance abuse, truancy, self-exploitation, and criminal behavior.
The children, mostly orphans from underprivileged backgrounds and their supervisors were transported by buses to the northern city of Tripoli for a fun filled day. The first activity of the day was a trip to an amusement park which was reserved for them in advance; they were given access to all the rides and games. The children laughed, ran about, played and generally seemed excited. Many of them told us that this was their first visit to an amusement park, and their first time in the city.
After the amusement park the children left, (albeit a little reluctantly) to go the Al Mona School, where HCI local partners CIWS had especially set up a dining hall and prepared a healthy meal for the occasion. The meal was prepared as part of HCI’s Farm to School project — where school-aged children receive nutritious meals, learn about the path from farm to fork and are provided with essential information on healthy eating habits. After an active afternoon of fun and games, the children looked quite happy to take a short break for lunch and refreshments.
As the children got back on the buses to be transported to the port of Tripoli for the final stop of the day, their excitement was palpable and justified; many of them had never ventured far from their villages in the mountain and had only heard about the sea in stories or seen it on television. Once at the port, they observed their surroundings with awe as they walked along the shore and saw the fishermen at work. When it came time for them to take a boat ride along the coast, awe turned into pure unbridled elation. The children’s happiness was so intense that it was contagious; all the on looking boatmen and fishermen seemed to be wearing smiles almost as broad as those of the children.