The sun is intense today at Zaatari camp. An unusually high number of young children are carting rocks and goods for a small fee. What choice do they have when their families have no income?
Today was my first workshop with the all-girls group at the Questscope NGO’s caravan in Zaatari. Going in, I was quite concerned how this project would be received by the girls since: 1) Syrian women are typically more conservative and may be discouraged from working with cameras and communications; 2) I am a random stranger who they may not trust. Despite these potential challenges, I am determined to get the girls involved in this project; 3) It takes an incredible amount of bravery for a Syrian girl in a place such as Zaatari–especially after being driven from their lives, families and homeland–to trust adults and try something bold and new. Will this bravery endure the constant hardships here? Just showing up to a workshop such as this is an achievement.
The first day is always really hard and ridden with anxiety. If trust is not built and if comfort is not found, then the rest of the weeks will be a bust. The girls are quite shy, and judging by their appearance, come from conservative families. But there are cracks in the shyness, anxiety and fear; their smiles, nervous energy, curiosity and a desire to rise above the despair and chaos that keeps them boxed in a camp. It is these cracks that let the light in. (It should be noted that the only reason these positive cracks are even there is because of the incredible mentoring work and support that Questscope has been delivering day in and day out over the last several years.)
I ask the girls why they think communication is important. ‘It is the essence of life,’ one girl says with a smile. I couldn’t hide my amazement at her response. We spent the next 40 minutes discussing the project. This was important to build trust. There are several points I drove home over and over again:
1) “This is your project. I am not here to take your picture and run away. I am here to work with you and you are in control of what we do, how much we’ll learn, and how good our work will be.”
2) I told them that they are brave for even just coming to the workshops, and I thanked them for being fearless. I told them that communications, and the success of this project will require them to continue to be brave.
3) They have to come every week and not give up one or two weeks in the middle of the project.
4) “In these workshops, you have to make mistakes. Make mistakes here. This is a safe place to create, to learn, to support each other and to make mistakes.” I wrote on the board ‘2+2=?’. They said 4. “No. In here, 2+2=5!” They laughed.
As a first exercise, I began to teach them how to play, read and write basic rhythm notation. The purpose here is not just a music workshops. I wanted them to practice making mistakes, get them comfortable at trying new things, build internal confidence, learn how to support one another, and most importantly smile and realize their own amazing potential.
The result was incredible. As they began to make mistakes and try something new, the energy in the room transformed from anxiety to laughter and excitement. They learned everything quite fast, and soon they were writing their own rhythm notations. To bolster their confidence even more, I had them each stand in front of the musical sentence they just authored, and their peers learned how to take a polaroid which the authors kept for themselves. From this they literally felt ownership of their work.
“Look what you have achieved in just 2 hours. Imagine what we will achieve together over the next month.” The cracks had let the light in. A trailer in the middle of a refugee camp, even if only for a brief moment, unleashed the light from the inside out, all around them. Other older girls started to join in and try the exercise and teach one another.
The next mountain to move: pulling out stories, key messages and developing short films–written, directed and starring them.
The all boys group is next. Let’s see how it goes.
Want to empower the Syrian youth, support Questscope’s important programs here.
Mohsin Mohi Ud Din