Syrian refugee boys gleefully don masks and play games, briefly escaping the stress and violence they face working on the streets of Beirut. Maher, an International Rescue Committee “street educator,” is leading them though the day’s activities in a colorful play area set up inside the storage room of a kebab shop near where the boys work.

A growing number of young Syrians sell flowers, shine shoes, or beg on the streets of the Lebanese capital to help their families pay for rent and food. Many of these children report being harassed, beaten and sexually abused. “We have nobody to make us feel safe when we are begging,” says one boy, just 7 years old.

Photo: Andrea Falcon/IRC

The IRC creates play spaces where kids can take a break from work and build trust with our social workers, who connect them to education, health care, and family services. We give Beirut’s street children time and space to be kids so they can heal and find a measure of safety and stability.

With the crisis in Syria well into its fifth year, more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon continue to face the hardship of displacement, shrinking humanitarian assistance, and lack of access to desperately needed services.

As their savings dwindle, more and more families have been forced to send their children out to help make ends meet.

The IRC, in cooperation with the United Nations refugee agency and local authorities, is working to improve protection services and provide a better life for children who are working or begging on the streets.