How Nadira Overcame Bullying and Found Her Voice

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In the bustling centre of Tyre, Lebanon, children walk into a cheerfully decorated classroom. It’s early in the day and most of the students are quiet and subdued. When the teacher starts the English lesson, their energy begins to build and soon the classroom is alive with the chatter of eager learners.

During group work, one girl’s voice rings out confidently as she helps her peers understand the lesson. Her name is Nadira, and she is an outgoing 11-year-old who loves to learn. She has a bright gleam in her eyes and an infectious smile. When you meet her, you get the sense that she is capable of whatever she sets her mind to; she radiates positivity and determination.

But Nadira wasn’t always confident and outgoing. Growing up in Lebanon, Nadira was often bullied because of her status as a Palestinian-Syrian refugee. This impacted her self-confidence and made her afraid to socialise with others. It also affected her school performance. She struggled to participate in class and lost all her motivation.

But after Nadira started attending play-based learning sessions at a local centre, things started to change. With personalized learning plans and access to psychosocial support, Nadira began to overcome her insecurities and gain confidence. Now, with the newfound support of classmates and teachers, she’s excelling in her studies and is finding new hope for what she can accomplish in the future.

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Nadira was shy and anxious about being around others until she received support from a Right To Play partner learning centre.

Losing Her Hope and Her Sense of Self

More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees have sought shelter in Lebanon since the Syrian civil war started in 2011. Nadira’s family is among them. They’ve been living in a refugee camp in South Lebanon since she was born. Growing up in the camp, Nadira faced many of the challenges that are common for those experiencing displacement. Challenges that have been exacerbated by ongoing political and economic crises, including skyrocketing inflation and rolling blackouts caused by electricity shortages. According to the UN, approximately 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in extreme poverty. Food insecurity, lack of access to educational opportunities, and ongoing tensions between host and refugee populations are all factors that affect Nadira’s daily life.

Among school-age children, bullying is also common. Many children who experience bullying report feeling depression, anxiety, loneliness, or a desire to withdraw from social activities. It can also cause those being bullied to skip school or, in extreme cases, to drop out.

"I felt ashamed of being a foreigner and my self-esteem was very low. I had trouble concentrating and many other learning difficulties.” – Nadira

Nadira remembers how painful it is to be bullied in school because of her background and because, unlike many other children, she doesn’t have a large extended family in the area. With family members scattered across different countries, she can’t participate in the same types of activities and family traditions that her peers do. On top of being bullied by her peers, Nadira also recalls being discriminated against by other members of her community and feeling like she was treated as a second-class citizen.

Nadira’s self-confidence began to suffer and she withdrew into herself. It got so bad that she barely spoke, for fear of drawing attention to herself. Nadira found it difficult to concentrate in school and she struggled to keep up with her lessons, falling far behind in subjects like English, reading, and writing. “I was speechless all the time. I felt lonely and unable to engage or participate in any activity,” she says. “I felt ashamed of being a foreigner and my self-esteem was very low. I had trouble concentrating and many other learning difficulties.”

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Nadira came out of her shell thanks to psychosocial support and play-based learning.

Overcoming Her Fear

That’s when she was invited to enrol in a learning program supported by Right To Play’s Enhancing Quality and Inclusive Education (EQIE) project. In Lebanon, EQIE trains coaches and educators so that they can provide stronger educational and psychosocial support to children using play-based learning approaches. The program Nadira joined was hosted at a local community centre and run by Right To Play-trained teachers from a partner organization called Developmental Action Without Borders (Nabaa).

When Nadira arrived at the Nabaa centre, a Right To Play-trained learning specialist completed a detailed assessment of Nadira's needs and created an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to get her learning back on track. A mental health professional provided Nadira with psychosocial support to help her overcome her social anxieties using play-based activities that helped her express herself, learn to process difficult emotions, and build her confidence. The counsellor also invited Nadira’s mother to participate in parenting support sessions, providing her with resources and strategies to deal with the difficulties of raising a child in an environment filled with challenges and hardships.

Nadira was hesitant to fully engage with the program, but little by little she began to trust people and feel safe, which allowed her to focus on her studies. In the learning sessions, she practiced reading and writing skills through games led by the teachers at the centre.

“The learning support team provided me with a precious gift which is the hope to be myself again.” - Nadira

Nadira’s mental health improved substantially, and her self-confidence soared. With ongoing support and the coping skills she was learning in her psychosocial support sessions, she began to connect more with the other children. Group activities and games allowed her to communicate with others and cultivate friendships in a safe setting, and she started to feel more comfortable taking risks and trying new things.

“I have completely changed after the participation in this project and receiving the support from the learning support team,” says Nadira. “They provided me with a precious gift which is the hope to be myself again. Since I began participating in these sessions at the learning centre, I began to discover who I am and develop my self-esteem.”

In time, she became a team leader and later an assistant to the teacher, taking joy in helping the other students complete their tasks and assignments.

“I like the play-based learning sessions, especially those with reading and writing. It helps me to feel included when I’m part of a team and can show my friends what I can do. I feel respected and like to help them to solve puzzles and learn,” Nadira said.

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Nadira is now accepted by her peers and works alongside her classmates.

Today, the silent and withdrawn version of Nadira is nowhere to be found. She is a confident, joyful student who is at the top of her class with a 96% grade point average. When she tutors her peers, Nadira patiently walks them through content that, not so long ago, she found difficult to master. If they start to get frustrated, she gently encourages them and uses some of the games she was taught to help them find the solutions on their own. If a classmate finds the correct answer, her eyes light up and she enthusiastically celebrates their success. Her leadership role has helped her gain her peer’s acceptance, respect, and trust.

She has started to feel like she is part of a community and that she can help others by sharing her story and encouraging others when they struggle with their studies. Nadira often volunteers to help the students who need the most assistance to understand the content at hand. "The program’s team has become my family, and ever since I started sharing my experiences, I haven't been lonely,” says Nadira. “I feel powerful because of my teachers. They helped me become strong and improved my self-confidence.”

When Nadira thinks about the future, she dreams of becoming an English teacher.

“I feel powerful because of my teachers. They helped me become strong and improved my self-confidence.” - Nadira

“Being a teacher will allow me to give other children who have faced similar life experiences to me the opportunity to develop their skills, change their mindset, and be independent in the future,” says Nadira, “I like helping others to solve problems and complete puzzles.”

No matter where her future takes her, Nadira will undoubtedly bring her compassionate heart and desire to empower others with her.

The Enhancing Quality and Inclusive Education (EQIE) program is possible thanks to the generous support of NORAD. EQIE works to improve access to quality education for marginalized children, including children with disabilities, in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mozambique, the Palestinian Territories, and Tanzania.