‘For the love of all the children ... inspired by memory of my Sam’

Donna with one of the Syrian children.
Donna with one of the Syrian children.

A Fife mother who tragically lost her son when he was just five years old is keeping his memory alive by setting up a project for Syrian refugee children who have fled the horrors of war.

Donna Jennings (46) felt compelled to set up the charity ‘For The Love Of A Child’ following her son Sam’s sudden death in 2009 from heart failure.

Sam Jennings, who tragically passed away at the age of just five.

Sam Jennings, who tragically passed away at the age of just five.

She had always wanted to help children, but it was this tragedy which provided the catalyst for work on the new project.

Donna, who is a trained drama therapist and counsellor, had previously been to the refugee camps in Lebanon on the border of Syria, but she hadn’t realised how under resourced they were for pre-school children.

The mum-of-four from Cupar is returning to Lebanon this week to look at setting up a Sam’s House Project, under the umbrella charity For The Love of a Child, as a tribute to her son.

She explained what the project involves: “Sam’s House will become a place where children who have suffered trauma can receive play therapy to deal with all the atrocities they have witnessed at such a young age,” she said. “Children will be able to express themselves through play, painting, crafts and sport.

Donna with some of the refugee children in the Bekkaa Valley in Lebanon.

Donna with some of the refugee children in the Bekkaa Valley in Lebanon.

“When children have been through so much they find it hard to express themselves. But through arts and crafts they don’t have to use words. The charity has an Amazon wish list for those wanting to support the children’s project or people can donate online for the work on the ground.

“The idea for Sam’s House in Lebanon came from watching the news and being so moved and distraught about the war in Syria and the plight of these people. Following this, a friend who had contacts in Lebanon invited me to go last year in April and I saw this as an opportunity to see what we could do to help the children out there who are suffering so much.”

She continued: “We visited several projects: a school project helping Syrian refugee children, an education run by Youth with a Mission (Kings Kids project) in a place called Damour and also one in Beirut, and we also visited the Bakkaa Valley to see what we could do there.

“The camp we visited was apparently very good compared to some other camps, they had running water and were able to work and there was an educationional project for older children. However I saw nothing for the women and pre-school children, many were hidden in their tents. I saw in some small tents women with three or four children. We met one family whose little boy had cancer. It was so hard. I saw children with no shoes on, with nails on the floor and very few toys to play with. This is why I would really like to see a play centre set up for the children in the camps.”

Ahmed, one of the children from the Bekkaa Valley and who features on the Facebook page For the Love of a Child.

Ahmed, one of the children from the Bekkaa Valley and who features on the Facebook page For the Love of a Child.

Donna said during this week’s visit she has meetings arranged with larger organisations on the ground that might be able to help train and equip people out there to run a Sam’s House once it is set up.

She said: “On this trip we are going to find the right place to get one established. In the Bekkaa Valley this will literally be buying a plot of land and erecting a large tent or puropse built container for Sam’s House to run in. We will need to raise the funds to do this. Toys are already being donated from an Amazon list so we just need to get the tent erected.”

Donna also hopes to pass on some of her own skills: “I am a dramatherapist who qualified from Roehampton with an MA. I have worked for many years as a child and young persons’ therapist.

“I am also an author of several childrens’ books and “The Listening Stone” has been developed into an emotional health and well-being programme for children. This is something also that I could use to train others to do in Lebanon. It holds the themes of loss, overcoming fears, belonging and identity, all of which these young refugees are struggling with.”

This won’t be the first Sam’s House project Donna has helped to establish. She said: “Our first project, which was funded from all the donations at Sam’s funeral, was a Sam’s House in Afganistan.

“This was set up in Kabul, Afganistan by two friends, Angharad and David James, who knew Sam and our family well. They were working on a mountaineering project and saw a need for children out there who had little facilities and no toys and no areas to play. The project really made a difference to children’s lives. But, sadly due to ill health and the dangers for their family, the project had to close. However, Angahard is now joining me on this new Sam’s House project in Lebanon.”

Donna said the projects are a tribute to her son: “We feel this is just the beginning and as more resources come in we will be able to build more and more Sam’s Houses across Lebanon, plus Turkey, and other parts of the world. We are also looking closer to home by establishing a Sam’s House for children and their families in Scotland as the needs are overwhelming.

“It’s so important for me and my family to see Sam’s House up and running as it keeps Sam’s memory alive for us as a family. It’s our tribute to a very special, beautiful, shiny and loving boy.”

Donna added that as well as the official website there is also a Facebook campaign – For the Love of a Child which features Ahmed, one of the refugee children in the Bekkaa Valley and the Amazon wish list for people to buy toys.

Anyone wanting to make a donation can also visit: www.samshouseproject.com