Thousands of children, separated from their families by the horrors of war, are being given the greatest of Eid gifts — a chance to experience a normal life.
Eid Al Adha is a time for people all over the world to celebrate, but it is an extra special time for youngsters across the Middle East for whom daily life has meant surviving bomb blasts and fleeing for safety in migrant boats.
SOS Children's Villages, an international organisation provide shelter and support for children displaced by conflicts, is ensuring the joy of Eid is not lost on those who have been robbed of the innocence of their childhoods.
The organisation has been answering the call of those in need for more than 50 years — and has sites across the Middle East, in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.
The team helps crisis-hit children all-year-round - and Eid holidays are always important dates on the diary.
Alia Al Dalli, international director of the Middle East and North Africa region for SOS Children's Villages, told The National of the importance of ensuring nobody is left out of the Eid celebrations.
She said: “Eid would mean new clothes and toys for children. However, this is sadly no longer the case for families affected by wars.
“In conflict areas where we operate, we make sure children in our care programmes feel the Eid joy. Children who have been affected by wars and who live in our villages celebrate Eid as any family does — new clothes are purchased, Eid meals are cooked in every SOS family, children help in the kitchen and play with their friends,” said Ms Al Dalli.
SOS Children’s Villages is an independent non-government organisation that provides alternative care for children who can no longer live with their parents and works with families experiencing extreme hardships or who are caught up in emergency situations in more than 130 countries.
The organisation also leads a family strengthening programme, to help keep family units experiencing turbulent times together, through initiatives such as family counselling to resolve issues and access to health services and education.
“Through our family strengthening programme, which aims to support families to prevent child abandonment, we help families during Eid so that they can bring happiness to their children,” said Ms Al Dalli.
“Eid and special occasions have a symbolism that provides new energy and resilience for children and families. Celebrating special occasions with family and friends, even in the midst of torn-down cities and devastation, provides a sense of normality and hope for a better future,” Ms Al Dalli said.
For those who have lost parents or are unable to live with them, SOS Children's Villages provide the loving and supportive family they need.
Groups of orphaned or abandoned children are cared for in welcoming family homes by caring women who have dedicated their lives to being 'SOS mothers'.
SOS Mothers are recruited carefully, so they can provide a home in the long-term, are given extensive training and are given free accommodation and a household allowance and salary once qualified.
Ms Al Dalli said the organisation offers a vital sanctuary for children in conflict zones exposed to violence and at risk of being exploited.
“[The children] are at heightened risk of early marriages, gender-based violence, and harmful traditional practices. Despite the immense hardship these people have been facing, what I witness during my visits to the programmes is their genuine willingness to learn and their optimism towards a better future,” she said.
Ms Al Dalli said that, through the emergency relief programmes provided by SOS Children’s Villages, a wide variety of services have been offered to children to help them cope with living in war zones.
Mental health and psycho-social support, war trauma healing, family reunification, education, and long-term care for children who have been separated from their biological families are some examples of the services offered by SOS Children’s Villages during wars.
The non-government organisation started its first emergency programmes in Syria in 2012. SOS Children’s Villages has today established emergency programmes in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine, reaching out to children and young people.
A total of 87,100 children and young people have been helped out across 572 SOS Children's Villages, according to Ms Al Dalli.
“When there is an emergency outbreak, we provide different kinds of support to people who need immediate assistance, such as food, shelter, sanitation, and health services,” said Ms Al-Dalli.