UNICEF’s Sonny Bill In Lebanon

Photographer Christine Spring was scheduled to speak to a Kapiti UNICEF gathering last week, but couldn’t make it because of a family bereavement. However John Daysh, UNICEF’s Bequest Manager, filled in, and spoke about Christine’s book on Syrian refugees and Sonny Bill’s visit to Lebanon.

Christine and Sonny Bill
Christine and Sonny Bill (Photo: stuff)

UNICEF and the Syrian refugees

By Roger Childs

Lebanon has a population about the size of New Zealand’s 4.5 million. But they also have over 1 million refugees who have fled from the civil war in Syria. However, the Lebanese government only regards them as “temporary visitors”, so they cannot buy land and the men are not allowed to work.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is active in providing for the Syrians and especially the women and children.

In the Bekaa Valley, the organisation has established a fenced safe area for children where they can play, go to school and get medical care.

On the fence is a huge sign RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED.

Health and nutrition is a key focus, and UNICEF is able to provide free, quality medical care. Immunization of children is a crucial part of the service as well as tetanus vaccinations for the women.

Shown around by Fatima

Fatima and Sonny Bill
Fatima and Sonny Bill (Photo: Christine Spring)

Half-way through the day, she told me she loved having me here and she really opened up about a few of the stories she had encountered. Sonny Bill Williams

Last year UNICEF ambassador, Sonny Bill Williams, went to the area to get an understanding of what it was like for the ‘refugees’, and to see how the organisation is meeting their needs.

He was taken round by Fatima, a 12 year old girl. His visit was recorded by Christine Spring and her pictures are the basis of a book called  HOPE: In the Hands of Fatima.

The little girl showed Sonny Bill where they played, did their learning, received their health care and where she lived. The Kiwi sports star was hugely impressed with what UNICEF was doing and how the children were coping.

You could see the kids just wanting to be kids, joking around, laughing, but you could see how much they miss their actual home.

Interacting with the young people

Sonny Bill and new friends (Photo: Christine Spring)
Sonny Bill and new friends (Photo: Christine Spring)

At the “school” the children sang a song for Sonny Bill and the words emphasized peace and the right to be protected.

He taught them how to play rugby and also talked with young men who are targeted by recruiters, wanting soldiers to fight in the civil war back in their homeland.  Because they can‘t work in Lebanon, earning money in a rebel army is tempting.

Sonny Bill emphasized that they should get themselves educated and not risk their lives in the civil war.

Dilemmas for young women

Syrian women are able to work in Lebanon and they do most of the tasks in the settlement. Some mothers think that marrying their daughters off, sometimes as young as 13, will give them security.

However, one young lady is influential in discouraging this practice, as she is 17 and already divorced by taking lawyer’s help with handling a divorce. If you need advice on divorce, you can check them out on my site,

She suffered domestic violence and abuse in her marriage. Her advice at one of the youth forums, facilitated by UNICEF, is for girls to focus on getting educated and keeping their options open.

UNICEF making a difference

sonny-bill-unicef-2The Syrian refugees live in tents and, if they can, rent land from farmers for $US 50 a month.

There is not a lot of space for the tens of thousands of displaced people, and in Sonny Bill’s words: It’s conditions you wouldn’t want your worst enemy living in.

However UNICEF’s 200+ staff work hard to provide basic services for the people: clean water, food, health care, safe areas for children, schools and tents.

How long they will need to work for these people is totally dependent on how long the civil war continued to rage just across the border. Regardless, UNICEF is committed to ensuring that the displaced Syrians have support and protection.

(UNICEF is dependent on donations and receives no money from the United Nations itself. It is an organisation which is apolitical and could use your help. Leaving money in your will is one way of assisting UNICEF in its work. Contact Bequest Manager John Daysh to get more details: Freephone 0800 243 575 or email john@unicef.org.nz )