Here are some stills of Al Jazeera America’s report on our #MeWeSyria program from inside Zaatari refugee camp. This news coverage–which highlights the creative enterprise and change-maker capacities of refugee youth–comes at a time in America where there is much fear and misunderstanding surrounding the narrative of Syria’s youth.
I will post the news video link once it is up.
#MeWeSyria is still operating inside Zaatari refugee camp and now being replicated and localized by refugees working at the Questscope NGO in Jordan. I will be returning to Jordan in February for follow up training of trainers and teachers inside Zaatari camp.
As promised, Al Jazeera America tonight is airing a news piece on my#MeWeSyria project with Syrian refugees in Zaatari refugee camp. I have no idea how they will edit the piece, but I hope the interview shines a light on the brilliance, bravery and humanity and creative capital of Syria’s youth. Syria’s youth and its refugees are the solution, not the problem. They and we are all changemakers. Hopefully the Al Jazeera story tonight will feature the hard work of my refugee partners inside the camps who are part ofQuestscope: Nadin EhrakiAlmajd KhAlaa ScopeReema Hmd. Tune into Al Jazeera America tonight 8pm or follow hashtag #MeWeSyria for more.
The power of #storytelling and creative enterprise can redefine the narratives surrounding #Syria‘s youth and its #refugees, and the process of creative enterprise can lead to experiential learning of how to be a changemaker.
Next week, Me/We brings Syrian refugees’ changemaking and creative enterprise to Al Jazeera America audience.
In a time of much fear and negative backlash against refugees, #MeWeSyria will bring the voices, ideas and changemaker spirits of refugee youth to American news audiences. Al Jazeera America will air a short piece on #MeWeSyria and highlight the bravery, creativity and intellectual capital of refugee youth.
As part of the interview, I was asked to comment on recent comments by ‘presidential’ candidate Donald Trump on banning refugees and Muslims from entering America. See below…
In recent years I have been working with brave Syrian refugee youth while leading the #MeWeSyria storytelling workshops in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
In doing this work, there are a few discoveries that give me hope in this time of despair following the carnage of the last few days in Paris and Beirut, and the cacophony of some politicians refusing to support refugees in Europe and America.
For refugees, Syria is the end game… not Europe, not America
The traditional portrait of migrants and refugees is that they are helpless wanderers who just want to come to Europe and America for ‘the good life’, or to implant their brand of religion and culture in a foreign land. How untrue this is.
With news images of three year-old Aylan Kurdi washed upon the coast of Turkey and thousands of Syrians marching the highways towards Austria and Germany, I had asked young Syrian change-makers from the #MeWeSyria project what they see and think as they hear the words ‘homeland’ and ‘refugees’.
“Currently, we are refugees. I have an idea, a thought that the homeland and the exile are like the mother and the stepmother,” he says with a smile. “It is right that she embraces the person but it does not have the affection of the mother,” a refugee participant of #MeWeSyria tells us.
Another young Syrian refugee from #MeWeSyria, an aspiring photographer and artist, responded:
We feel sorrow and sadness. We ran away from the war, killing and destruction in order to live in peace away from the scenes of murder and bloodshed. Everyone flees with his family and his children in order to build a beautiful future for them. I did not have any country to protect our rights. We are human beings and we have the right to live in peace. We want peace and nothing else.
A teenage Syrian girl from #MeWeSyria who is mentoring younger Syrian refugees says, “I don’t want the world to open the doors for us. I want them to open Syria for us so we can go back home and live again.”
Europe and America are not the end game for refugees. Syrians’ first choice is to return to a peaceful mother Syria.
As part of the #MeWeSyria storytelling program, young refugees inside the Zaatari refugee camp are writing, filming, directing and editing their own short films. The project aims to decentralize the power of narrative, and activate changemakers through creative enterprise and the process of storytelling. In this particular piece, refugees explored the concept of home, or ‘watani’. They had no props or fancy sets. What they did have were their camera phones with pictures of Syria from before war…their spirit of hope and desire for peace, and the barren desert space surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire.
The messages these Syrian refugees share are gifts to hold close to in these times of fear and uncertainty.
Past, present, future
As soon as we abandon the ingredients of peace, then we lose our past, present and future. As host countries and Western societies, we must remember this when enemies of peace will try and waiver our faith with cowardly attacks. This is what Syrian refugee youth teach us in the above video piece ‘Hope From The Ashes’.
The other thing to bear in mind is that some of the Syria’s young refugees are refugees precisely because they chose to stand up for the same values and rights that many of us in Western societies hold dear. And there are also many refugees who didn’t want any trouble, and were just trying to quietly earn a living to support their families, or finish getting their degrees so that they could one day give back to their community.
No matter which side you are on, or which way you look at it, Syria’s nightmare knocks on the doors of Western nations today, and our power as a collective humanity will be determined in our resilience for upholding hope, pluralism and peace with refugee youth, not absent from them.
Love and prayers to our brothers and sisters in Paris and Beirut who are enduring–first-hand–the violence that Syrian refugees have been fleeing for more than four years.
Resistance is not ISIS or extremist groups killing innocents. Resistance…real resistance is lighting a candle instead of cursing the dark. That is what we must do in our breath, our actions and our intentions as we face this darkness.
With love, hope, and humor, #Syria‘s youth fight unseen battles against darkness each day. I see it with my own eyes each time young refugees are sharing water with their neighbors. I see it each time a young girl walks upon desert rocks for miles under the sun to attend a class or to teach younger kids in a make-shift school. I see it each time a family in a tent shares a meal together in a dusty trailer or tent and prays for peace and a return home. I see it in the smiles and eyes of those like you, me and anyone else.
Anyone that has lived and worked with Syrian refugees will know that refugee youth are the solution, not the problem. A mantra of #MeWeSyria is: While the world continues to fail the people of Syria–now entering its fifth year of war– Syria’s youth will not fail our humanity nor our world.
Sustainable peace and development requires our world–ALL OF US– to hold tighter to the ingredients of peace, love and hope–not retreat from them. The images of Germans and Austrians opening their homes and sharing love and peace with Syrians fleeing war was a devastating blow for ISIS and extremists…the equivalent of a 9-11 for the extremists and terrorists. Such actions and images are what ISIS does not want to prevail.
As soon as we leave these ingredients of peace and hope, or lose faith in them, then we lose our past, present and future.
#MeWeSyria stands with Paris, with Beirut and with the youth of Syria…we stand with our collective humanity.
Me/We is partnering with the global NGO Ashoka and Ashoka’s Youth Venture to design youth storytelling for changemaking programs for schools, educators and youth NGOs.
Recently I was in South Africa, piloting a version of Me/We that equips students and teachers with tools to transform their school into an active hub of storytelling for social change and creative enterprise that completely youth driven.
More than 30 students (60 applicants total) and 3 school admins have delved into changemaking exercises, identifying ‘the power of their why’, identifying changemaker ideas and solutions, and the power of communications. During the storytelling for changemaker program, students gained new media skills and harnessed the power of communication and storytelling as a means for facilitating changemaking in their school and community.
The first idea youth chose to tackle is mental health, bullying and discrimination. Almost every student I had was dealing with issues related to losing a loved on to disease, suicide or drugs. Through the process of storytelling, students explored the role of peers, parents and teachers in improving the mental health of youth at the school.
The social and youth challenges in this resilient township of Tsakane are complex. Youth identified teen pregnancy, drugs, suicide, bullying and high education costs as social challenges that they want to focus their changemaker efforts on.
As a result of our storytelling for changemaking program, 100% of participants said they gained a deeper understanding of changemaking and more than 82% of participants are likely or are already starting a changemaker project and building teams to innovate ideas and solutions to local social issues and youth challenges. 89% said they are going to share the lessons from our storytelling workshop on changemaking with their community, family and peers.
For the last two weeks I have been back in the Zaatari refugee camp, building on the success of last year by leading phase II of the #MeWeSyria storytelling initiative for young Syrian refugees and NGOs working in the camp. Here are some quick updates…
Training of Trainers: Replicating storytelling workshops for young changemakers
Whereas last year I was working directly with more than 40 refugee youth, ages 12-mid 20s, this time around I am training more than twelve youth mentors, teachers and volunteers on how to replicate the Me/We storytelling curriculum for at-risk youth in the refugee camp. As part of my new arrangement with Questscope, the Me/We curriculum will be taught by the refugee youth mentors from the NGOs Questscope and ACTED, and offered as a course at the new youth center being built by UNFPA. These workshops are training youth mentors and teachers on the powerful process of storytelling as a mechanism for building up the next generation of Syria’s young changemakers, problem solvers and community builders. With 57% of Syria’s hospitals destroyed, more then 3 million out of school, and a lack of doctors, electricity, clean water—these issues will need creative problem solvers and innovators to help restore Syria as a thriving country.
Building up refugee journalists as storytellers for impact/changemaking
The JEN NGO has trained a group of young refugees to be journalists for a local magazine called ‘The Road’. What if these youth journalists could be active discoverers and inspirers for solutions and ideas? What if they practiced solutions based journalism that activated a culture of changemaking within the Syrian refugee community? Me/We is now training these young refugee journalists on just that: storytelling for changemakers. The group are now shifting some their content focus towards valuing and promoting changemaker culture inside the camp, and solutions based journalism.
Insights and Impact so far…
All the workshops are pushing youth influencers in the refugee camp to value and promote changemaker skills: empathy, teamwork, fluid leadership and changemaking. Additionally, the refugees are learning the importance of storytelling as means to exercise self expression, pluralism, creative enterprise and the importance of making mistakes as a gateway to crazy ideas that may catalyze social change.
“Back in Syria, I did not know I was a changemaker. Now in Zaatari, of all places, I feel I am a changemaker,”—Young Syrian refugee girl in #MeWeSyria workshops 2015
I am employing several different tactics in these workshops and integrating some of Ashoka’s Youth Venture’s ‘Design for Change’ exercises into the Me/We curriculum. In one exercise, youth teams are challenged to ideate on a real global challenge, such as cheaply and safely ridding the world of land mines. What was interesting about this was that all of the Syrian youths’ answers and ideas dealt with either awareness raising, or hiring outside experts to fix the problem for them. This is telling because it speaks to the cultural barriers that exist for communicating and valuing changemakers organically from their own community.
The context of this is a lack of space for youth to express their imagination, critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. In the Middle East and South Asia, diligent memorization can often take precedence over critical thinking and risk taking in the classroom.
In another exercise, I pushed the youth to start video blogging on a laptop. At first, they stare at themselves silently, afraid to click record…afraid to start communicating even with themselves! But once they overcome their fear and embrace expression, that one click becomes a click towards creative enterprise, ideation, communication and empathy. That one click become an irreversible first step to discovering their inner changemaker and to communicating changemaking around them.
“That was the first time I have had a conversation with myself in years…” Syrian refugee youth, 2015, After a vlogger exercise
Exciting next steps
Me/We storytelling for changemaker workshops will be replicated by trained youth mentors and teachers, and offered as a course at the new UNFPA Youth Center managed by Questscope. This means that new groups of refugee youth– boys and girls– will be able to discover their inner changemaker and explore creative enterprise and build skills for communications, empathy and changemaking.
Me/We has trained a group of youth journalists in the camp who have already finished writing, directing and producing two short films about social issues that need changemakers: child labour/education; and transportation access/ health of the elderly and pregnant women. These journalists will continue their training at the Youth Center and have access to equipment to take their magazine and storytelling to the next level. Their content will now also focus on cultivating a culture of changemakers.
I have selected 4 refugee youth managers for the Me/We program, 3 from the Questscope NGO, and 1 from ACTED. These refugee managers have achieved advanced understanding of storytelling for changemaking and will manage the volunteer teachers and journalists carrying the Me/We program forward for the youth and community.
The refugee youth trainers have successfully completed the training and are ready to replicate the workshops for at-risk youth in the camp. The group of youth mentors have also completed writing, editing, filming and producing their own short film. The film explores the concepts of “home” and “hope”.
Each month, Me/We youth-produced films for social change will be presented at the Youth Center as a cinema night in the refugee camp.
* I still need support and new partnerships to keep Me/We going for at-risk youth worldwide. If you want to help and pitch your time, skills or money, please contact me on Twitter @mohsindin or on LinkedIn or Facebook @mohsin mohi ud din.
#MeWeSyria has received generous support for 2014 and 2015 workshop implementation from GERMANY.