Nature and beloved ones are the key tool for resilience in refugee minors
Refugee children and adolescents are particularly exposed to psychological issues. Many factors affect their mental health: not only the violence experienced in war contexts, but also the precarious conditions they face in refugee camps. Most camps are overcrowded, basic services (such as toilets) are often unavailable, health care is inadequate, schooling is not provided. It is particularly important to understand how minors face these difficulties and overcome them. Resilience has been defined as the capacity ‘to withstand or recover from significant challenges that threaten its stability, viability, or development'. Resilience is a very important mechanism that helps children to get through the dramatic difficult they face and still have capabilities for live a balanced life. It is not easy to measure resilience, and there are few studies that try to quantify it in refugee camps.
A paper recently published on the Journal of refugee studies by researchers from the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development of the University of Massachusetts, employed a method called Photovoice to measure the lived experience of Syrian refugees minors. Photovoice is a participatory research method in which participants are asked to express their points of view or represent their communities by taking pictures and referring stories about their photos. This approach enable to identify and represent issues of importance to them: by using cameras and reporting their emotions, children can document their everyday realities and identify their own needs and concerns as refugees. Participants involved in the study ranged from 8 to 18 years of age and were recruited in two schools in Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The majority of Syrian refugees living in this area do not benefit formal assistance programs. Only 17% of Syrians have legal residency. Many live in informal tented settlements, that expose families to health concerns as well as to safety risks.
The results indicate that the main resource to resilience was found in nature. Minors referred that natural sceneries give them hope for their future. Nature provides a sense of relief, it helps to find peace, essential tools to cope with their refugee status. Besides, nature is a shelter for children that consent them to take a pause from the stressful overcrowded situation in the camps and help them to find a moment for themselves. The article reports some quotes of one participant which clarify the importance of nature. A girl who chose to take a picture of the sun reflected on the sea: 'it [the water] lets us see what's inside of us and gives us relief. The reflection of the sunlight on the sea of the water makes me feel very happy'. Another commentary was "The relation between my life and the picture brings me hope. Hope gives me the strength to continue. I catch the sun between my hands, and I trust that the hope will come even after wars."
The second important theme emerged with the analysis is the attachment of children and adolescents to their relatives. This also means that they are affected by the ability of adults to adapt to the new situation. How adults react to difficulties has an impact on the way minors do. Many participants on the study said that they chose to take a picture of their beloved ones because they wanted to preserve physical memory that they can take with them wherever they have to move away and separate from their families. In general connections with other people in the community is very important for the resilience of refugee minors. Many of the connections are found in school which is also the third resource: many participants expressed their love for the school and the fact that they see education as an opportunity.