Nick Sharratt in Lebanon
Published on: 15 December 2016 Author: Nick Sharratt
Illustrator and author Nick Sharratt has been to Lebanon to meet and share books with Syrian refugee children with the aim of helping them express themselves through art - here's his report.
Lebanon has become home for over 1.5 million refugees from Syria, over half of which are under 18. The Lebanese government have worked hard to create over 150,000 school places for Syrian refugee children, yet there are still thousands of children out of school at risk of early marriage, child labour and exploitation.
The charity Theirworld has been working in Lebanon to get all Syrian refugee children into school since 2013. I'd previously provided illustrations for the charity's A World at School movement and this November I was invited to travel with them to Lebanon to meet Syrian refugee children and run some informal workshops showing how they might express themselves through art.
Our first visit was to in a tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley and a Beyond Association centre for children who have been forced to leave their homes and schools due to the conflict and who are not yet enrolled in Lebanese schools. I met with a group of 12-14 year-olds who are members of the centre's press club.
I told them a little about my job and shared some of my picture books, in particular my Big Book of Crazy Mix-Ups: a flap book where the pictures do all the talking. I always find it a great book for making a connection and it was lovely to hear the group laughing and giggling at the ridiculous combinations.
We then invented some mixed-up creatures of our own and I led a draw-along for everyone to create their own lion and crocodile images. Finally we worked together on a large picture featuring drawings of what they would like to be when they grow up, and the career choices included journalists, doctors, teachers and rap artists.
We were then joined by the rest of the group and the children recited the poems they'd written addressed to world leaders, demanding an education and shared by Theirworld at the UN General Assembly in September.
It was a moving experience listening to them and being reminded of what they had been through but it was wonderful too to witness their curiosity and enthusiasm and determination to make the most of their futures. We had a lot of fun together and several of them told me afterwards that they now planned to incorporate pictures into their stories and journalism.
We also visited schools in Mount Lebanon and Beirut where double shift systems operate and two school days are fitted into one so that Syrian children can receive an education in the second shift.
For my sessions with the 5-7-year-olds I brought along a selection of my picture books including the Arabic editions of You Choose and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly. We acted out Shark in the Park and played guessing games with Something Beginning with Blue which I had a go at reciting in French, as that is the language that is used for many subjects in Lebanese schools. We also drew together. Using pictures and humour it was easy to engage with the children and again there was plenty of laughter and chat. My visit to Lebanon was short but the young people I met have made it unforgettable.
World leaders have made a pledge to get every Syrian refugee in school this academic year. These children, their families and their teachers, know how important it is for everyone to have an education and they're committed to making this happen.
These are children who have been forced to leave everything and just want a chance to learn, so that they can look to the future with confidence and with hope. It is vital that the promise to get Syrian refugee children into school is kept.
Nick Sharratt has been an illustrator and author of children's books since the late 1980s. As well as producing his own books, he's worked with many of the UK's top writers for children, most famously Jacqueline Wilson.
Theirworld is a children's charity that believes all children everywhere deserve the best start in life. They work for a future where all children are born safely, have a quality education and the chance to change the world.
For more information go to www.theirworld.org. Through research, advocacy and the #YouPromised campaign, they are working to ensure the policies, funding and programmes are in place to allow every Syrian refugee child to get an education and achieve his or her potential.