Syrian refugee Jassem uses puppets to bring country’s rich heritage to life for young refugees in Lebanon, many of whom have no memory of home.
NAKHLE, Lebanon – Crouching inside a small tent in a hilltop olive grove in northern Lebanon, Jassem works his hand puppets and sings rhymes in a falsetto voice about landmarks in his native Syria. The audience of young refugee children squeal with laughter and shout out questions about a homeland most of them cannot remember.
The 28-year-old former physical education teacher came to Lebanon as a refugee in 2011 having fled insecurity in Raqqa, settling first in the capital Beirut before moving to Nakhle village in the northern district of Koura. He said he and fellow refugees began putting on the puppet shows when they realized how little Syrian children in Lebanon knew about their own country.During the show, Jassem introduces the youngsters to Syria’s 14 governorates and their specific traditions and histories, including folk dances and major monuments such as the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The children are engrossed, but the strongest response often comes from the parents.
“As we perform the play, we are often affected by the emotional reaction of parents, who burst into tears as they recall their memories of Syria,” Jassem said. “This usually triggers a discussion between parents and their children about the heritage and cultures of their hometowns.”
Syrian refugee Jassem, 28, performs a puppet show to young Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon. © UNHCR/Dalal Mawad, producer/Houssam Hariri, camera-editor