by Adriana Ermter with Janine Chehade
Photography by Janine Chehade
25 year-old Israa, has never known life outside a refugee camp. She was born in the Baddawa Camp in Lebanon and has lived there her whole life. Growing up in the camp wasn’t easy for Israa, she knows how hard it is for young people to find their voice, accept and believe in themselves and to unlock their potential when living in cramped quarters that lack a safe place to explore, learn and play.
It’s why she’s implemented the Book Club for Youth program in the camp. To infuse young people with the skills they need to build their futures—acceptance, confidence, tolerance and understanding and to build critical life skills through literacy. She sees her club as a refuge for the 16 year olds who come and participate each week.
“Interactive learning has a powerful impact on youth,” says Israa. “The club shows them that they are appreciated and supported, regardless of their differences or difficulties.” Skills Israa learned six years ago as a Right To Play volunteer, but wished she’d gained as a child.
Life began to change when Israa enrolled in a vocational study program outside the camp. There, she met new young people and gained confidence by excelling at her studies. “I became more self-dependent because the classroom environment between the teachers and students was more comfortable,” explains Israa. “It was the first time in my life that I felt like I existed.”
Israa (backrow, second from left) with other members of Right To Play
Then, when Israa was 19, she began volunteering with the Right To Play group working in the camp. Learning the play-based training through ongoing Peace-building, Early Childhood Play, Positive Child and Youth Development and Enhancing Quality Education workshops fueled Israa with an increased sense of belonging, confidence, happiness and peace. It also empowered her with the ability to connect with children and youth and transform their negative feelings and behaviours into positive actions. “The children listened to me and responded and they started to improve,” says Israa. “I felt happy because I knew I could be a positive influence.” And it inspired her to couple her training with her love of learning and reading and launch the book club.
Now, through her book club Israa empowers more than 20 youth to find a book to read and talk about each week. The group gathers for group discussions where they connect each book’s story to their personal experiences, nationalities and/or culture. Talking about what they’re reading motivates them to express their thoughts and feelings, it improves their communications and self-expression and it empowers them to better understand themselves and accept one another.
“The club reminds us of the importance of reading,” says Israa. “And by reading, we’re exchanging our Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian cultures openly with one another—the building blocks towards acceptance. Right To Play reminds us that we matter.”
In 2015, Right To Play launched the Play for the Advancement of Quality Education (PAQE) program. Active in eight countries including Lebanon, PAQE uses Right To Play's experiential learning methodology to build teacher capacity and remove barriers to education to improve learning outcomes.