‘Fun Bus’ a breather for Beirut’s street children
BEIRUT - Clad in her black headscarf and long robe, Rayyan hurried to the brightly coloured bus as it pulled to the side of the street at a large intersection in the heart of Beirut. Packing away the boxes of tissues she was selling, the 13-year-old hopped on board the bus stationed under the shade of a tree.
“I cannot stay long. My mother will not allow it. I have to go back to work,” she said.
Every Thursday, Rayyan and other Syrian refugee children selling chewing gum and tissues at the busy intersection wait impatiently for the “Fun Bus” where they can enjoy activities such as drawing, watching films and basic learning.
Yazan, 11 years old and originally from Aleppo, said he has been on the bus several times in the two years since he started working on the street to help provide food for his large family. “I like being on the bus because I can learn, draw and watch cartoons,” he said.
The “Fun Bus” initiative, funded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union and implemented by the Makhzoumi Foundation, a Lebanese NGO, provides support and recreation for street children while giving them the chance to take a respite from street work.
“Our bus rolls every day, except Sundays, stopping at different locations and neighbourhoods,” said Youssef Tabsh, project manager at the Makhzoumi Foundation.
When the project began in 2017, activities were carried out on the pavement or in open shelters in specific areas, Tabsh said. “The idea of the bus came later. We thought the kids needed a safe and private space to express themselves,” he said.
“Now when they see our bus they would hurry inside because they feel it is for them. We are taking them off the street for 1 to 2 hours during which they can enjoy activities, go crazy and let go the steam before going back on the street,” Tabsh added.
On the “Fun Bus,” the youths get to live their childhood for a couple of hours, a welcome change from selling tissues and chewing gum for a few dollars a day. The initiative offers lessons in basic literacy and numeracy, awareness sessions on hygiene, protection issues and the dangers they could face on the streets.
“Most of the children have never set foot in school but, with the basic learning we offer, they are now able to read numbers and words making them better equipped to protect themselves,” Tabsh said.
The programme seeks to engage with the families of working children and encourage them to get their sons and daughters off the streets.
The programme has taken more than 150 children off the streets in the past two years but many challenges remain. It has reached hundreds of children working in Beirut, most of whom are from among the nearly 950,000 registered Syrian refugees living in the country. Their families live below the poverty line, with limited access to employment, often leaving them with no option than to send their children out to work to make ends meet.