BEIRUT, May 22 -- No one chooses to be a refugee. Neither do 41-year-old Ibrahim, his 31-year-old wife Shams and their five children. They were simply forced to.
In their small apartment in the settlement of Ras el-Ein, near the Lebanese city of Tyre, about 80 km south of the capital of Beirut, the Ibrahim family talked with Yao Chen, a popular Chinese actress who serves as goodwill ambassador of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"What do you aspire to be when you grow up?" Yao, wearing a light grey headscarf in a casual style, asked each of Ibrahim and Shams' children.
Amal, 11 and first in her class at a second-shift school for refugees, told Yao she hoped to be a teacher. Mohammed, 16, said he was learning to be a car mechanic.
Their parents, originally from Syria's northwestern province of Aleppo, fled to Lebanon because they did not want them to grow up in the shadows of war. They traveled to Jordan from Latakia province in western Syria more than a year ago after surviving a siege that caused starvation in their area and left them with no food or water for three days.
The story of the Ibrahim family is all too common among the more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who had to abandon their country embroiled in a civil war, which was started by a crisis three years ago when anti-government protesters took to the streets calling for reforms. More than 150,000 people have been killed so far.
"One family is too many if it is ruined by a war," Yao wrote on China's twitter-like Weibo.
Yao, who has 68 million followers on Weibo - much more than American singer Katy Perry on twitter - paid a visit to Lebanon from Monday to Wednesday in a bid to raise awareness of refugee issues especially in the Chinese-speaking world.
"My job is to pass the message," she told UNHCR staff. "I don't know about other countries, but in China, people living in peacetime only have a vague idea of what it means to be a refugee."
Deeply moved by the scenes in Ras el-Ein settlement, where more than 330 refugees live in makeshift tents or ramshackle apartment blocks without running water, the 34-year-old Chinese actress, a mother of a ten-month-old, hugged a four-year-old child.
"A total of 8,607 children died in the Syrian civil war. More than half of the refugees in Lebanon are children," Yao wrote on her Weibo account.
"During the war, some children suffered atrocities, some were even used as human shields. They were victims of the war. They lost home, families and hope for the future because of war," she added.
At a school the UN refugee agency built for Syrian refugees, Yao presented stationery specially prepared for the children.
"What is your biggest wish?" She asked the kids.
"I hope when I go back to my hometown, everything is the same as before," a boy said.
A lot of children are suffering trauma caused by the war. Some of their paintings were pasted on the wall at the entrance to the teaching building. Some drew a bleeding rose and some drew a broken, bleeding heart.
The school tries to know the inner world of students through paintings and other means and offers psychological treatment to those who have post-war trauma.
During her stay in Lebanon, her fourth visit to refugee camps at her own expense, Yao also visited a refugee camp in Beirut. She made previous visits to the Philippines, the Thailand-Myanmar border and Ethiopia.
Yao's Lebanon trip has aroused much attention from Chinese web surfers, most of them young people.
"We support Yao Chen. Participating in activities of the international community is a symbol of civilization for a country. China, one of world powers, needs such a peace envoy," wrote a netizen under the pseudonym of Nayiedaner.
Another netizen called Zhu Boqi said: "A public figure should pay more attention to the public. This can show China's soft power. We give Yao a thumbs up!"
While few netizens questioned Yao's motives, most of them voiced support for her and their admiration for her courage, wishing her a safe journey in volatile Lebanon. Some of them even compared her to British actress Audrey Hepburn and American actress Angelina Jolie for her humanitarian acts.
(Erika Solomon also contributed to this report)