Written by Josephine Haddad; Edited by Leanna Cappiello
It’s common for teachers at World Vision’s Early Childhood Education Centre in Lebanon to welcome children fleeing Syria, but meeting four-year-old Hamza was a first.
His arrival made a startling impression, when he immediately got into an argument with one of his classmates and used strong, violent language. Though his smile was big and bright, his words were sharp and fierce. His teachers wondered, ‘What on earth has this boy seen?’
Photo: World Vision
One boy’s brutal beginning
Over four years ago, Hamza’s mother, Rim, fled Syria for a refugee camp in Jordan, where she gave birth to her son. Eventually, the family resettled in south Lebanon, living in small two-room apartment in an old building. Though Hamza wasn’t directly exposed to the brutality of war, he heard the plethora of stories his family shared and internalized their experiences.
Rim quickly realized that Hamza, who was rapidly taking interest in violent stories, began to harbor and use harsh language. The young boy wanted to be considered strong, but the stories he’d heard made it seem like strength was about violence and power. As Hamza grew up, the isolation he faced affected his ability to socialize peaceably. “He was never around children,” says Rim.
To get Hamza settled into a predictable routine, Rim had enrolled Hamza in World Vision’s Early Childhood Education program. Here, she hoped he would be able to learn and play in a safe, peaceful environment.
Kindness > Violence
When the teachers asked to speak with Rim after Hamza’s first day, she immediately knew the reason. “My son has heard so much about the violence of the war in Syria, it stuck in his mind,” she says, “He probably said something alarming.”
The teachers at the centre were faced with a challenging choice: write Hamza off as an estranged student with dark past, or intentionally pour loving kindness into his future.
So, the teachers started to pay special attention to Hamza’s needs. Instead of scolding him and isolating him further, Hamza was met with inclusivity, generosity, warmth and patience, modeling good behaviour and teaching him about the joy of belonging.
A few weeks into his classes, Hamza started developing a special bond with his teachers. “This is when I noticed how much he was changing,” says Rim.
The young boy slowly began incorporating ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ into his daily interactions. Rim was astonished when she caught a glimpse of Hamza cooperating with other students. He even began to express his feelings about his family more frequently: “My love for my mother and father is as big as the sea and the sky.”
Gaining Superhero strength
As a result of his initial breakthrough, Hamza eventually became comfortable learning and playing with his peers. The more his teachers and peers welcomed into the classroom, the more he became involved in his education.
Bit by bit, the ugly stories of violent war faded from Hamza’s memory and were replaced with stories of heroism. Hamza professes Superman to be his favourite of all heroes.
When asked why, his answer is simple: “He defends and saves [the] weak.”