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In Photos: The Sadness Behind the Syrian Smiles

Cairo's 6th of October City is a suburb that is home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.

On the outskirts of the Greater Cairo district of Giza is 6th of October City – a suburb that is hub, home, and haven to more than 100,000 refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria.

Nearly all the Syrians living in the city have left loved ones behind, having packed their memories with them as they sought sanctuary abroad.

Many refugees have been scarred by what they witnessed while living in Syria.

Many chose Egypt because of the cultural similarities, although the dialects differ enough to present a challenge to children and adults alike.

Some—particularly the younger ones—have few memories of their former life in Syria. But many have been left emotionally scarred by what they witnessed back home.

The Education in Harmony Project provides more than 1,400 children with access to an education and psychological services.

To help the children adjust to their new surroundings, Plan International set up the Education in Harmony project in 2015, which currently offers schooling and psychosocial support to 1,400 vulnerable and severely war-affected Syrian children.

Eight percent of the children participating in the Education in Harmony project are between the ages of 7 and 14.

Eighty percent of the children in the school are between 7 and 14 years old. Many are old enough to recall the war in vivid and excruciating detail. Accepting what they’ve seen and the chain of events that has brought them to their new life can be a painful and grueling process.

Group therapy helps participants accept their new lives and cope with what they have witnessed.

The Education in Harmony project is helping children get back a sense of normality.

The school uses group therapy and individual sessions to help the children come to terms with what happened and to accept their new reality.

Freeza believes the classes and psychosocial support have helped her son, Abdel-Latif, recover from the trauma experienced while living in Syria

Three mothers are effusive in their praise of how the school is helping. Freeza believes the classes and psychosocial support are helping her son Abdel-Latif cope, and gradually she is noticing a shift in his mindset.

“When it is time for the classes, he is noticeably joyful,” she said.

“There is care and kindness between the children and the teachers,” said the mother of Ahmed, another student at the school. “Ahmed has started to communicate and to go out with his friends, and his awareness has increased. This makes me very happy. He’s becoming an ordinary child again.”

Recreational activities help children interact with each other and express themselves.

The crucial psychosocial treatment that children receive at the school is provided to pupils by a consultant psychotherapist named Yousry, who devises recreational activities to encourage them to interact and play with each other, which in turn helps them to express themselves. 

Plan International is calling for an end to the war in Syria.

Plan is calling for an end to the war in Syria. It is damaging the lives of a generation of children, including those who have managed to escape.

Although the bombs may have stopped falling on those who have begun a new life in Egypt, the emotional damage they have done will take many years to heal.

When the Education in Harmony projects ends in 2018, Plan’s work will be far from complete.

There are currently 122,228 Syrian refugees in Egypt. The Egyptian government stopped issuing new visas earlier this year.

When the Education in Harmony project ends in 2018, its work will be far from complete. The 28,877 children it has so far supported will continue to absorb the aftermath of war, and families will still struggle to settle into their new situations.

Things will be tough for some time to come.

In the governorates of Giza, Damietta, and Alexandria, more than 59,000 refugees have been helped to emerge from their waking nightmare. When—and if—the conflict is resolved and life starts to resemble some kind of normal, the damage will linger with them for a lifetime.

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