We working hard, and need you!

Donate directly to #MeWe. We need your support to keep our teams active, and to keep spaces growing for healing and community-building. Thirty percent of your donation will go towards personnel support, and seventy percent will go towards a fund to support activities of #MeWe hubs for healing and community-building in 2018-2019. You will receive personal updates from #MeWe founder, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din. Donate securely on pay-pal here: 
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We have been hard at work and traveling non-stop in order to finish our year strong. In the past 12 months, we have trained more than 50 Syrian youth facilitators across 8 cities in three countries on our storytelling innovation through local implementing partners DARB and Questscope, and their partner orgs in the region. Our Syrian changemaker teams have replicated the program to and reached more 700 youth and caretakers.

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Below are some rapid updates, and demonstration of the extraordinary we are making through #MeWeSyria:

December: Open Ideo Award | UNHCR Innovation Article | #MeWe back in Turkey

Open Ideo Award

We won Open Ideo’s innovation competition, funded by the Australian Govt.! Out of 100s of applications, and more than 70 shortlisted finalists, Open Idea, MIKTA, and the Australian Government have identified #MeWeSyria as the winner of their ‘Education in Emergencies’ Challenge. Read more

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New #MeWeSyria article published on UNHCR Innovation Services

  • Our latest insights just published on UNHCR Innovation, click here 

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#MeWeSyria training with core team of Syrian peace-builders in Turkey 

  • More than 8 Syrians from of our core team came together in Turkey for new training sessions focused on knowledge-sharing across the different hubs they have activated, and capacity building on new modules focused on mental health/psychosocial support, particularly related to interoception and goal setting, co-created with my partner and neuroscientist Michael Niconchuk. The 4 teams formulated refined local action plans to reach another 180 youth in Turkey over the next 5 months.

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November:  #MeWe back in Lebanon | World Children’s Day w/ ODI 

#MeWeSyria training in Lebanon with core team of Syrian youth replicators

  • Similar to Turkey, more than 16 Syrians from our core team in Lebanon came together for new training sessions focused on knowledge sharing across the different hubs, and capacity building on new modules focused on mental health/psychosocial support, particularly related to interoception and goal setting, co-created with my partner and neuroscientist Michael Niconchuk. The 8 teams formulated refined local action plans to reach another 188 youth in Turkey over the next 5 months.

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The Overseas Development Institute invited #MeWeSyria to present its innovation for a #WorldChildrensDay event

  • Watch the panel at ODI here...

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Donate directly to #MeWe. We need your support to keep our teams active, and to keep spaces growing for healing and community-building. Thirty percent of your donation will go towards personnel support, and seventy percent will go towards a fund to support activities of #MeWe hubs for healing and community-building in 2018-2019. You will receive personal updates from #MeWe founder, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din. Donate securely on pay-pal here: 
Donate Button

It’s on

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This week, world leaders and NGOs are convening in NY for the United Nations General Assembly. There will be a lot of talk on refugees and an echo chamber of governments and organizations repeating catchy quotes about what the world needs to do to improve education access, and the need to better serve youth, refugees, and migrants. On the one hand, it’s a moment to really focus the international community’s attention on pressing challenges. On the other hand, it’s also a chance for nations and organizations to promote themselves for trying to do what they should already be doing: advancing the health and wellbeing of people and planet. While the party happens in NY, Me/We is digging deep in designing and planning for HOW to build youth-led spaces for healing, empathy and problem solving.

 

So much has transpired since our last update on June, when we presented on #MeWeSyria at the Innovative Solutions Conference in Istanbul, Turkey with Ashoka Turkey. ‘What?’ you ask? Check out the snap-shot of updates below…

Codesigning new healing tactics and basic neuroscience into Me/We Storytelling program 

“He/She who controls the narrative has power. He/She who controls the amygdala controls #empathy.’ It’s been a really enlightening and fast-paced few days with my #MeWeSyria ally and partner @mikeniconchuk (humanitarian, neuroscience and empathy expert). Mike has been with refugees for many years and was in Zaatari refugee camp during the pilot of #MeWeSyria. Fast forward to today, we are refining and enhancing my #MeWeSyria storytelling program by building in experiential exercises and collaborative opportunities for peer to peer healing, empathy, and creative enterprise through #storytelling. Since 2013, Syrians from Questscope NGO in Zaatari refugee camp and Darb Syr NGO in Gaziantep, Turkey continue to bravely and selflessly replicate the program for Syrian teens. Mike and I are engaging in a little creative destruction to identify  ways to improve the program further for refugee replicators. These young refugees are doing important work for youth development and peace. Stay tuned for more updates on this end.  #MeWeSyria.

A note from refugees in Gaziantep

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Above is a letter from Syrian youth living as #refugees in #Turkey. These brave youth from #Syria are replicating and adapting my #MeWeSyria #storytelling for #changemakers program. In this report, they share in their own words how it has been going.

“We experienced that human needs can be discovered and feelings can be expressed through storytelling and #MeWeSyria let us really, for the first time, connect with what is inside of us. This plays a role to have resilience in our lives, gives us the tools of changing and gives us the hope and desire to continue changing when we are using empathy and problem-solving strategies.”–Darb Syr NGO / #MeWeSyria replicator 

I will be expanding and refining the program further in #Turkey, #Lebanon, and #Jordan over the next 6 months with #DarbSyr #Questscope #AshokaYouthVenture #Germany #Syria. Thanks for sending Hadi! Love to the wonderful Syrian teams in #Turkey and #Jordan!

Phase III funds secured! 

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Excited to announce I secured phase 3 partnership between my program #MeWeSyria and the German government. It was a small idea I had that many people and organizations didn’t take seriously years ago, except this woman from the German govt (Christiane Hullmann). She and her team believed in #MeWeSyria. They opened the door when I knocked. Since then, we have together activated multiple youth hubs for creative enterprise, empathy, changemaking and #storytelling with brave and talented Syrian teachers and volunteers in #Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan and in #Gaziantep Turkey. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘No’ if you really believe in something. Everyone can do something. And the preservation and progress of our world requires all of us to step into our changemaker journeys, especially for Syria today and Kashmir. I’ll be expanding our program in this new phase with my Syrian friends and partners in #Lebanon, #Turkey, #Syria and #Jordan over the next 6 months. Teams of dedicated young Syrians are every day battling darkness and equipping youth with hope, education and social support through this program and others. We must support these people. Our world needs them. The world fails Syria, but Syria’s youth will not fail our world. Lots of work left to do and improvements to make. I’ll be reaching out to my friends for funding support. Stay tuned. Honored to keep working and co-creating with Turkish, Syrian and Jordanian teams: #YouthVenture #Questscope #DarbSyr.

#MeWeSyria in Huffington Post

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Syria’s youth are the solution, not the problem. My latest for the Huffington Post

Following the tragic ISIS-led carnage in Paris and Beirut, we now hear the cacophony of political opportunism and fear in which some politicians in the U.S. are actively working against America’s support of refugees, specifically Muslim refugees.

In my work with Syrian refugee youth, there are a few discoveries that give me hope in this time of fear and confusion. READ MORE ON HUFFINGTON POST

Me/We working with Ashoka in South Africa

With student storytellers and changemakers from the African School for Excellence
With student storytellers and changemakers from the African School for Excellence

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.

workshops with students from the African School for Excellence
workshops with students from the African School for Excellence

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.

Project Update/ Phase II: Back in Zaatari refugee camp

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.

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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

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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.

A Piece of Me: from Syria to New York City

MeWe Syria and refugee’s film honored at United Nations Alliance of Civilization Youth Film Festival. 

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In a dusty tent city home to tens of thousands of refugees, dozens of teenage Syrian youth wrote, filmed, directed and acted in their own short stories through the MeWe communications initiative. One of the films, ‘A Piece of Me’, is making its way to the Plural + Youth Film Festival, hosted by United Nations Alliance of Civilization. The short film has received honorable mention and will be screened a the Paley Center for Media in New York City on Thursday.

As the founder and project leader of <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mohsin-mohiud-din/post_7799_b_5490889.html&#8221; target=”_hplink”>#MeWeSyria</a>, I will also deliver a short presentation of the MeWe project. Given the deteriorating situation in Syria, and the international community’s failure to provide the promised support for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees–it is not without a heavy heart that I will speak on the extraordinary project completed by the brave refugee youth in Zaatari.

The news as of late has been disturbing. The brutes within the Islamic State are still screaming; the media continues to give the extremists the microphone; and public discourse in America remains fixed on questions of whether or not Islam is the threat. Funnily enough, the questions on Syria overlook the undelivered/deteriorating international aid necessary for refugees’ stability and survival. The World Food Program has been forced to stop cash and food assistance for December, and Jordan has been forced to cut its free medical treatment for Syrian refugees. In the cracks of such unfortunate developments, however, Syrian youth are doing extraordinary things in the darkest of places.

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Throughout the two-month MeWe workshops, we explored what communications means and how it can be a tool for empowering youth, discovering innovation and disrupting a sometimes harsh reality. In the beginning it was nothing but blank stares and much hesitance in talking about expression and communications. This silence eventually led to a roar of creativity and inspiration louder that the fighter jets patrolling the dry sky. The development of communications as a skill is often overlooked in informal education programs for disadvantaged youth. But once youth are challenged to communicate effectively, both internally and externally, the results are undeniable. The refugee girls and boys I worked with exhibited greater confidence and grew increasingly comfortable with pluralism, critical thinking and team work–all the ingredients needed for peace, dialogue and social development. The NGO Questscope believes this also and were brave enough to host the project.

In Zaatari refugee camp, we were of course limited in what we could do. Security concerns and weather in the refugee camp meant we could only work within the confines of the trailer and caravan of the Questscope NGO. The landscape of Zaatari consists of dust, fences, barbed wire and rocks. The props are tents, a deflated soccer ball, trailers, wheelbarrows and the harsh sun. The tragedies of the war just over the border gave the young storytellers, survivors and dreamers no relief.

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In such a context, one could assume that the MeWe short films are tragedies. Some may even question the ability or willingness of refugees to learn about communications and expression. Those assuming such fatalism would be proven wrong. In the film ‘A Piece of Me’, a young Syrian refugee named Ali,(actual name withheld for privacy reasons), relays the story of his uncle who had lost his leg in a bomb attack in Syria. Instead of the story being about only loss, we transformed it into a tale of resilience, hope and triumph.

In his film, ‘Ali’ has a lesson for us all: “I want to send a clear message to anyone like me that has lost a part of themselves. Hope is not lost.”

Every day that the Syrian conflict is allowed to continue, the world fails the people of Syria and the future of the Middle East. Yet this is not where the story ends, if one listens to the youth. I have seen with my own eyes how Syrian youth like ‘Ali’ and the children in Questscope will not fail our world. They have something to say. The question then becomes: ‘Who is listening?’

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The youth and project were hosted by the incredible NGO, Questscope. Learn more about how you can help Questscope provide vital services to Syrian refugees, here.

Donate to WFP and help feed Syrian refugee families, here.

MeWe was made possible thanks in part to funding provided by the government of Germany.

PLURAL + is a joint initiative between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the International Organization for Migration.

Discovering a network of ‘Young Eyes’

Sometimes the universe leads you to places you need to be, and if your eyes and heart are open, sometimes the universe connects you to people to make positive change.

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By total accident, I have met two young Syrian and Palestinian artists who have opened an arts center near my apartment in Amman. Their center is called Young Eyes, and it is run by Khaled and Esa. Khaled left Syria after his office was nearly bombed by rebels. Esa has been in Jordan most of his life. His family were forced to leave to Gaza decades ago. Both have put there savings into this arts center.

The center provides a perfect space for putting on an exhibition of the refugees’  work for the local community. The center also provides a great space for conducting my communications workshops.

I am now in talks with Young Eyes to put on an exhibit showcasing the films, talent and content of the refugee youth I am working with in the Zaatari and Zarqa. This is an ambitious task, since I am short on time with the kids and we have yet to start writing and recording their films. My goal now is to have a minimum of 4 short films from the youth in Zaatari and a minimum of 2 films from the youth in Zarqa.

I am now adding a second of group of kids to work with, who are Syrian and Palestinian from Zarqa. I am going to rent a bus to bring refugee kids from Zarqa to the arts center in Amman every Saturday so that they have a fresh and stimulating environment to work on their films and stories. At this point, I am going into my own money to make this happen because I think the results will be fantastic. These Saturday workshops will be in addition to the ones I am doing four days a week with the refugees in Zaatari, through the NGO Questscope.

Additional challenges will be having the kids’ consent to show their work and stories to the greater world. Of course, without their consent, the films will not be shown publicly. My next workshops however will convey the importance of sharing their work to their community and to the outside world. While many of the refugees in Zaatari cannot leave the camp, they can still bring the world to them and connect to the world around them through their films and stories.

Oh yeah, did I mention I only have 4 weeks and very little money left to do all this?

I came here not knowing much anyone, nor what the next steps would be for the project. Jordan, and much of the Middle East for that matter, is one of those places where the only plan one can have is no plan. Flexibility and patience are key. So far, running in the dark has led me to accidentally bump into some great ideas and fantastic activists and artists already here.

The drive, talent and bravery of some of the young people here in Jordan is extraordinary.

Let’s see how this pans out.

In solidarity,

Mohsin Mohi Ud Din

 

PS, through Young Eyes I got to meet and hang out with an 18 old graffiti artists named Bourghali. His family is originally from Aleppo, Syria. He showed me some of the murals he did for a play about great Arab thinkers of days past.

The artist
The artist

 

 

Trust/ Confidence/ Music

 

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.

In solidarity,

Mohsin Mohi Ud Din

 

This is what my shoes looked like after playing pick up soccer with a group of Syrian boys. We played on a field of rocks and dust. These kids can really play soccer. I got my butt kicked. IMG_0202

#insideout #griefcamp

Here are two documentaries about powerful projects empowering vulnerable communities unlearning prejudice, grief, anger and pessimism in their own societies. I hope to take elements from these fantastic projects and adopt them into my upcoming project for Syrian refugee children. These spread hope through art and dialogue.

/#insideout/

This is about street artists’JR’ who has reversed the process of an artists capturing stories from people and instead empowers communities all over the world to express themselves while engaging their societies on local social issues.

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/#griefcamp/

Grief Camp unlocks children’s internal barriers to self expression, acceptance and hope. A piece I hope to adopt from this project is the concept of a ‘memory wall’, where kids post pictures of lost loved ones and write messages or say something about the picture. Everything gets posted on a centralized space. It would be great to adopt this concept for the Syrian refugee kids, who themselves endure immense loss, tragedy and injustice.

 

In solidarity,

Mohsin