#MeWeInternational Global Sprint: 140 youth leaders across 5 countries

“Who is ready to step into their story and unleash their voice?”

Silence.

What seems like an awkward silence is actually the noise of battle taking place internally among young leaders wrestling with their limitations, fears, and self-doubt.

#MeWe International, in partnership with Ashoka, the U.S. State Department, and U.S. Embassies across five countries are using storytelling to break arrested narratives among youth communities.

Why? So that youth potential is no longer anonymous under the veil of silence and fear.

After a few seconds of silence, a young leader walks up to the front of the room. She is nervous, and taking deep breaths. Then, something miraculous happens: she begins to connect her mind and heart with her breath in order to unleash ideas, feelings, and thoughts. This is her first time speaking in public, and opening up about gender based violence. Once one person does this, almost always others follow suit.

“This is the first time in life I am expressing myself like this,” says the young leader from #MeWeTajikistan.

Thousands of miles away, a young Honduran girl says, “ I did not ever think I could do this.” For the first time in her life, she shares what migration has done to her family and community, and how she wants to stop this from happening to more young people.

Further north, a young Mexican participant during the #MeWeMexico trainings shares an epiphany to the room of 40 young leaders.

“This program, I am realizing now, is not a workshop but a form of leadership therapy. As leaders, we are not looking after other leaders, nor taking care of ourselves,” he says.

Since January 2018, more than 400 young leaders across 5 countries applied to #MeWe International’s storytelling for changemakers workshops, made possible thanks to support from Ashoka’s Youth Venture, and ‘The Collaboratory’, part of the State Department’s Education and Cultural Affairs Office.

In April 2018, more than 140 young leaders were selected by the U.S. Embassy and local NGO partners across the 5 pilot countries of Tajikistan, Moldova, Ecuador, Mexico, and Honduras.

Once selected, young leaders from each country experienced an interactive three-day training to understand the power of words and communication as tools for healing, community building, and empowerment.

Throughout the #MeWe trainings, young people explored the science of storytelling, learned about story structures for social impact, and exercised internal communication as a foundational step towards effective public communication. The program’s exercises involved mindfulness practices, communications strategy-building, public speaking, creative writing, and video making.

After the initial three-day trianings with youth leaders, small teams formed around a set of self-defined social issues. Since May, more than 15 youth teams have been initiating their own pilots for shifting mindsets in their communities by applying what they learned in #MeWe International Inc.’s communications methodology.

In our storytelling work as #MeWe International, our hypothesis is that arrested narratives among young people fuels arrested development among youth, and their communities.

Below are snapshots of the changemaker stories and community events that young leaders from each of the five country pilots are initiating. Click on the links below to stay up to date to the changemaker magic unfolding from the #MeWe global sprint.

#MeWeTajikistan (#MahBaMo) | CVE

MARCH 27- 1 APRIL 2018 | Local partners: Y Peer Tajikistan and Beyond Conflict| U.S. Embassy Dushanbe

60+ applicants for 30 spots | 30+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2MbbCRU

Youth social media post :YPeer Tajikistan and #MeWe trainees leading storytelling and debate sessions focused on gender inequalities

Over the course of 3 days, young people from both rural and urban areas of Tajikistan explored ‘they why?’ driving their leadership aspirations, and exercised ways to communicate choices and alternatives to their peers when it came to violence, gender inequalities and gender discrimination. With the help of Beyond Conflict, much time was spent on understanding how stress, anxiety, and fear — triggered by violence or abuse — impacts the brain and one’s behaviour.

Powerful moments in the training included young girls coming together for the first time in their lives to open up about the prevalence of gender inequalities and violence in their own communities, and then communicating with one another effective solutions to navigate their challenges.

Youth social media post: #MeWeTajikistan trainees at Dushanbe American Spaces leading their own community empowerment sessions after the initial #MeWe trainings
Youth social media post: #MeWeTajikistan trainees at American Spaces leading their own community empowerment sessions after the initial #MeWe trainings
Youth social media post :#MeWeTajikistan youth team producing and distributing a #MeWe video about education as a tool for change.

Since the initial direct #MeWe International training in April, Youth teams activated in #MeWeTajikistan (#MahBaMo) have already led 3#MeWe community events, including 1 public debate session on the topic of gender inequalities. Youth teams successfully engaged more than 60 people, approximately, in their own locally organized #MeWe events where they transferred their learnings and insights from the #MeWe training to their peers in the community. Two other #MeWeTajikistan youth team produced and edited 2 short videos on education and gender inequalities.

#MeWeMoldova | ANTI-CORRUPTION

9–13 APRIL 2018 | Local partners: CDA | U.S. Embassy Moldova

50+ applicants for 24–30 spots | 25 youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2vZWjk3

Local promotion of #MeWeMoldova community planned for September, 2018

#MeWeMoldova teams are launching a public event this September, with local partner ADC. At the community event, youth teams will present their #MeWeMoldova stories and share insights from their community projects which have been targeting corruption in Moldova.

Youth teams have already produced more than 3 short videos, 1 blog series, and are currently mobilized dialogue spaces at more than 3 local libraries where teachers and youth are actively discussing how to redefine and reframe society’s understanding of the term ‘corruption’.

Youth social media post: #MeWeMoldova youth trainees activating their community projects, and initiating change arounf the issue of corruption.
Youth social media post: #MeWeMoldova youth teams partnering with local libraries to form spaces for community dialogues on the topic of corruption.
Youth social media post: #MeWeMoldova youth teams partnering with local libraries to form spaces for community dialogues on the topic of corruption.
Youth social media post: #MeWeMoldova youth teams producing a 3 part #MeWe video series on corruption, and mobilizing community dialogues on the topic of corruption.
Youth social media post: #MeWeMoldova youth teams producing a 3 part #MeWe video series on corruption, and mobilizing community dialogues on the topic of corruption.

#MeWeMoldova youth teams have successfully engaged more than 40 people, approximately, in their locally organized #MeWe events, not including the upcoming event in September.

#MeWeEcuador | Gender Based Violence

APRIL 19–22, 2018 | Local partners: Ashoka Andean Region, Esquel, and Plan International | U.S. Embassy Quito

120+ applicants for 20+ spots |24+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated

Snaps of #MeWeEcuador training in April

#MeWeMexico | CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

MAY 18–21, 2018 | Local partners: Ashoka Mexico | U.S. Embassy Mexico City

70+ applicants for 50–60 spots | 44+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 6 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2vE4MtB

The largest of all the #MeWe country pilots took place in Chapultepec park in Mexico City. More than 40 young leaders from across the country participated in 3.5 days of intensive training on communications for social impact. ‘Civic Engagement’ was the theme for the #MeWeMexico pilot, led by #MeWe International and Ashoka Mexico. Young leaders formed collaborative relationships and workshopped ways they wanted to combat apathy and lack of trust in civic institutions among young people in Mexico today. Community distrust and was particularly prevalent due to persistent challenges since the devastating earthquake last year and rising gang violence in recent years. Issues of discrimination against the LGBTQ community also were addressed among youth leaders in the program.

#MeWeMexico team initiating #MeWe community projects reaching more than 300 people at a local university
#MeWeMexico trainee mobilizing women and girls in her community to experience some of the #MeWe storytelling methodology as a tool for women’s empowerment.
#MeWeMexico trainee forming new parnterships and mobilizing women and girls in her community to experience some of the #MeWe storytelling methodology as a tool for women’s empowerment.
#MeWeMexico team initiating a#MeWe community project reaching more than 25 young people

To date, #MeWeMexico youth leaders have launched more than 4 community events, targeting youth civic engagement, gender violence and discrimination, and community building. After the initial training #MeWeMexico teams have reached more than 400 people in their own communities by replicating key exercises from the #MeWe International methodology.

#MeWeHonduras | MIGRATION

MAY 25- 27 2018 | Local partners: OYE, CCS San Pedro Sulas | U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpas

100+ applicants for 20–30 spots | 20+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 4–6 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2KOv1m9

#MeWeHonduras youth teams produced and launched a video series on migration

Migration and gang violence dominate the national and international narratives of Honduras. Young leaders in #MeWeHonduras wanted to tackle this misrepresentation by giving voice and visibility to the talent, creativity and resilience within Honduran youth.

#MeWeHonduras training
Virtual mentorship sessions between #MeWeInternational and #MeWeHonduras youth leaders

During the #MeWeHonduras trainings, young leaders, many for the first time in their lives, broke their silence around how violence and migration have broken their families and communities; and expressed ideas and pathways to reframe their losses and tarumas into opportunities for empowerment, collective problem-solving, and healing. For these youth, migration is not limited to leaving to the U.S. for work. Instead, migration is a threat to the health of family and community dynamics of an entire nation, and they want to reframe the narrative of how Honduran youth view and engage with their own nation.

Youth social media post: Snaps from #MeWeHonduras community event hosted by local parnter CCS San Pedro Sulas
Promotion for #MeWeHonduras youth team’s community event

Since the pilot training in May , #MeWeHonduras youth teams have launched more than 4of their own community events, targeting youth, migration, and broken families. After the initial training #MeWeHonduras teams have reached more than 100 people in their own communities by replicating key exercises from the #MeWe International methodology, and have produced a social media video series on migration that has reached more than 1,000 views on Facebook. The national news televised their locally organized #MEWE event in August, reaching thousands more households across San Pedro Sulas.

Local TV news crew covers #MeWeHonduras event and interviews youth leaders and U.S. Embassy parnters.

Measured Impacts

Throughout 4 of the 5 #MeWe country pilots, we are obeserving significant qualitative and quantitative evidence that communications development is a crucial piece of programming that enhances leadership development, creative collaboration, and community building led by young people.

On average, the #MeWeInternational storytelling methodology activated 4 small team projects per country, with an average of 2 small teams-per country remaining active in the months following the initial trianing. On average, #MeWe youth teams launched more than 2 #MeWe community events per country, and these took place in the months following the direct trianings. Most the community showed young leaders training others on #MeWeInternational’s methodology.

(1) Honduras, (2) Moldova, (3) Mexico, (4)Tajikistan, and (5) Ecuador represent the top performing #MeWe youth teams — in order of impact— who achieved all of the following: released a video series, published blogs, and mobilized multiple community events targeting a social issue.

Across all countries, youth particpiants reported significant growth when it came their leadership and communications abilities.

Over the course of the Latin America #MeWe pilots, Ashoka and #MeWeInternational executed a pre and post assessment among youth leaders. The results are quite encouraging.

Data across the three #MeWe Latin American countries — Mexico, Ecuador, and Honduras — shows that more than 90% of beneficiaries self-reported the program enhancing their leadership and communication skills.

90% of beneficiaries reported that they would recommend the training to their peers and community.

NOTE: The #MeWe projects across Latin America, in Moldova, and Tajikistan were sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and were designed and administered by #MeWe International Inc. and Ashoka’s Youth Venture, with support from Beyond Conflict.

MiT Solve partnership + VICE Impact!

Lot’s been going on since #MeWeSyria won Solve MiT at the United Nations in May.

Here is the scoop:

After winning for our pitch on #MeWeSyria at Solve MiT at the United Nations, we presented to partners and allies at MiT. In our presentations we highlighted how our unique methodology leverages the process of storytelling/inter-personal communications    as a tool for mental health/psychosocial support, social/emotional learning, and community-building.

#MEWESYRIA @ MIT
#MEWESYRIA ON STAGE WITH PRESIDENT OF MIT

 

Vice media released a short mini documentary on #MeWeSyria’s pitch at the United Nations. WATCH HERE:

#MEWESYRIA @VICEIMPACT
WATCH VICE FOLLOW US ON OUR JOURNEY TO PITCH OUR INNOVATION TO SOLVE MIT AT THE UNITED NATIONS

 

We now have an important relationship with VICE IMPACT to help give visibility to our program and the refugee changemaker voices within it. READ AND WATCH our recent publications on VICE:

 

#MEWESYRIA FEATURES NEW MESSAGES AND STORYTELLING CONTENT FROM REFUGEE YOUTH TEAMS ON VICE

 

MiT Solve invite #MeWeSyria to UN | March 7th

MiT’s Solve have selected #MeWeSyria as a finalist to pitch at the United Nations on 7 March. This could be a big opportunity for our innovative program and refugee-led teams. The event will focus on solutions for refugee education. Follow @MeWeSyria for live updates and also PLEASE VOTE FOR US HERE!

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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.

award_mewesyria

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.

alimewe.001

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.

photo-2

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