STEP has been working in partnership with UNHCR to provide Child Protection Services for refugees and internally displaced children and young people in the city of Suliemany and surrounding districts. This mobile service is designed for children and young people who are not living in camps. The team has been working since 2014; organising and running a range of activities at the small centres dotted around the region. Alongside this, social workers have been providing support for children, young people and their families through home visits and at the centres. This is a unique service that has met need at the points of vulnerability; our staff reaching out to communities rather than expecting them to search for the specialist help that they need.
Alongside efforts to establish relief for camp-based refugees, it soon became apparent that refugees living amongst the host community needed support too.
Their needs were no less urgent, yet with these families being widely dispersed in Suliemany and wider in the surrounding towns, providing meaningful child protection services were more challenging.
Starting in 2014, STEP working in partnership with UNHCR, formed a team of social workers and youth workers to address this need. A number of small centres were established across the province of Suliemany, including the city itself, bringing child centred activities and games to these neighbourhoods. These centres have been little hubs of activity bringing hope, life, and purpose to many of the young people in these communities.
Social workers reached out to many of these families, supporting them as they transitioned to a new life in Kurdistan, providing specialist care for the many traumatised and grieving families. Being able to reach these families at their point of need has been an essential element in helping these families begin to make progress along the path of healing and restoration. While there is still turmoil, war and much uncertainty in their hometowns in Syria, STEP takes great pride in playing a part in helping these families adjust to their present reality.
A huge source of life has revolved around the ground-breaking Youth Committees, made up of young people from different backgrounds and coming together to participate in fun, creative and innovative activities. Alongside our STEP staff, these young people have taken over theatres – putting on shows to display the richness of their home cultures, been rock climbing and mountaineering, discovered keys of leadership, communication & teamwork, taken part in rubbish collection drives and participating in English language sessions.
The STEP Mobile Team has been a type of bridge to better integration for these displaced youth into the local culture. From focused discussions, purposeful activities, gentle conversations and a lot of fun - genuine friendships have grown, and the team have helped guide these young people as they build new lives in Kurdistan. The professionalism of our staff has helped families in times of crisis. With the aftermath of the conflict in Syria constantly impacting them; trauma and mental health issues have been a major point of challenge for these displaced people. Our team have helped them, and also taught professionals in other institutions, like the Police and Health Care staff, what to look out for and how to help in way that causes no further harm.
Without the intervention of our staff, many young people in this region would have been left to find their own way, with vulnerabilities caused by the conflict in Syria potentially being magnified. As it is, there are many success stories - young people that have managed to navigate the challenges of education, jobs, some of the many complicated realities of starting over in a new place. They have also enriched others through their creativity and perspectives on life.
Without doubt, not only have the youth been positively impacted by STEP's work – but our staff have also benefited from the interaction with these creative and resourceful young people. The mixing of young people from different backgrounds has been a part of helping social cohesion between these young people, ultimately helping the process of building towards a lasting peace.
Zina - Bayingan Centre
“Joining the youth committee is considered a turning point in my social life. I was a lonely, antisocial person, shy of mixing with people and when talking to my friends of the opposite sex (male). But after I joined, especially when they suggested to me to take part in a theatrical show to break my shyness, and indeed I participated, and this was the first positive steps.”
Fatima - Wolba center
“This experience was a good and positive thing in my life, my communication has become stronger and I learned a new program on Microsoft Teams.”
Duha - displaced lady
“The Introduction to Child Protection course that we attended during our volunteer time was very beneficial; several activities such as handcraft, the International Refugee Day and how to apply for work, all was very good experience.”
“I benefited a lot from the youth committee. I got to know new friends and learned how to work as a group, hear others opinions, and respect each other. I had a lot of fun, thank you.”
The partnership with the UNHCR has proved to be a decisive element in facilitating this project. As displaced and host communities continue to adjust to the realities of the Covid pandemic, ongoing economic challenges and unrest in different parts of Syria and Iraq shows that the need to provide a stable service for these young people is as real and meaningful today as it was in 2014.
Displaced communities are adjusting to new realities in Kurdistan. With the needs of the immediate emergency changing to ones of adapting to longer term displacement, new challenges face these young people. We want to help equip these young people to have the capacity to find sustainable futures, whether in Kurdistan or back in their places of origin. For these regions to develop they will be dependent on their skills and capacity of this new generation.
Preparing these young people will involve upskilling them in English and IT skills, alongside helping them to identify the strengths of their resourcefulness, resilience, and adaptability. Working in partnership with other organisations, we are bringing the world to their doorsteps in the form of international and local experts that will help them prepare for these coming years.
A full program of fun, challenging and thought-provoking activities will keep our team busy as they continue to provide purposeful activities. Ongoing child protection services by our social workers will provide ongoing support for these families.
The Drop-In Centre provides a safe space for children. It was started in 2002 specifically to meet the needs of working boys who had nowhere to rest in the market.
STEP is working in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to develop a foster care system in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.