War Toys




Chronicling the process behind WAR-TOYS from the perspective of toy photographer Brian McCarty.

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Full Day of Art-Based Interviews

Myra took great care to listen to each of the children's accounts, validating their personal perspectives and offering comfort to those that needed it. 

On February 25th, Art Therapist Myra Saad and I spent our first day working together again with three groups of Syrian refugee children. The Kayany Foundation kindly provided use of a classroom at their Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School and organized the groups – one all-girls (ages 13-16) and two mixed gender (ages 8-12) from the neighboring Kuzbari-Rotary German School.

Entrance to the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School.

Myra first engaging the children in games, helping them feel at ease.

The schools located in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon are situated in-between small but numerous clusters of refugee tents and impromptu housing, all within walking distance from the larger, somewhat more organized camps Myra and I visited in 2014. The Syrian border is still within sight, just a few short kilometers away. 

Like the children Myra and I met in 2014, many in the groups had endured great personal loss and witnessed horrific events before fleeing Syria. Each expressed what they had been through in their own unique way. 


This boy, whom we would get to know very well, drew an account of a barrel bomb being dropped on civilians, labeled as "injured" in Arabic at the bottom of his illustration (seen left). At the top it reads, "Syria will come back." The other text labels the helicopter and bomb as being "Assad's," meaning from regime forces. He also inserted a rebel flag (with green stripe) but didn't state his allegiance to anyone. Note that his face is obscured because the inclusion of flags could be misinterpreted by some and place the boy at risk.


In this girl's drawing (seen right), she depicted the death of her father, killed by a tank. Because this was a group interview and not an actual therapy session, Myra didn't pry for more details, seeing that the girl was clearly upset. Instead, Myra let her know that she had a voice and offered validation for her feelings of sadness and loss. Note that the girl's name has been obscured in the drawing to protect her anonymity. 


The boy, whose name has been obscured at the top of his drawing (left), created a colorful account of horrific fighting within Syria. The Arabic writing above the left tank translates to, "We, the people, don't want war." The other text labels the elements within the drawing: "Tank," "Helicopter," "Barrel," "Building" (being split in two), "Man" (bleeding), and "Murderer" (standing with a gun).  


This girl's drawing showed the "ghosts of war" marching from Palestine to Iraq to Syria (labeled right to left). The implication is that Lebanon is next, and she will never be safe. Ghosts would factor very heavily in children's drawings over the following sessions. 

The all-girls group from the Malala School was older than I've worked with in the past. While their drawings were similar to their younger peers, a few expressed themselves more freely in other ways, including music. One of the central goals of the school is to empower women and girls, teaching them that they matter. This message is clearly having a positive impact. 

While Rama (seen and heard right) was creating this drawing of a man being beaten, tortured, and then shot, she recited a rap from a  Syrian musician  about freedom, expression, and solidarity. 

While Rama (seen and heard right) was creating this drawing of a man being beaten, tortured, and then shot, she recited a rap from a Syrian musician about freedom, expression, and solidarity. 


Later in the session, when asked what she hoped for in the future, Rama made the drawing above (her last name obscured). I had hoped to recreate her dream within the camps, but finding the right doll proved challenging. The ones I found lacked the substance seen in the young woman. 

Other children, both girls and boys, also shared their dreams of being doctors and astronauts. Despite all they have been through, the refugee children have the same aspirations (and abilities) as their peers around the world. They only need a chance and the proper support. 

The Kayany Foundation continues to get my admiration and praise for the work they're doing with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. I'm pleased and excited that our previous work together is now funding an ongoing art therapy program being developed by Myra Saad. As seen above, especially with the girl that lost her father, these interview sessions are just a fraction of what the children need to fully process their experiences and recover emotionally.

Knowing this, Myra and I also decided to try something a bit different on this trip and organized multiple sessions with many of the same children from this first day. I look forward to sharing the results as well as the WAR-TOYS photos that were created from the drawn accounts seen above.

My continued thanks to all of the children that participated, everyone at Kayany, Myra Saad, and our intrepid intern Ranine Swaid, whose help that day (and several following) was invaluable.