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.

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.

Stressed!

I am two days away from departing to Jordan to begin my arts diplomacy workshops for Syrian refugee youth.

It is crunch time and I feel like I am running in the dark. I still have not secured a place to live nor do I know how I am getting around. I do know that transportation in Jordan will be expensive. I have secured clearance to work with youth in the Zatari refugee camp and also with an NGO in Zarqa. As is the case with the Middle East, I cannot define a clear work schedule until I am there in person with the staff and partners. This is a bit scary as I am flying in Sunday and  I will need to move fast in order to implement this project in the 40 day timeline. Off into the great unknown.

Other than those worries, I have purchased most of the equipment for the workshops. All of this equipment will be donated to the refugee youth so that they can continue learning and creating. For $1,000 I got two camcorders, 2 digital cameras, an instant camera, SD cards, and other things. There is still more to buy before I leave Sunday. Pressure is on!!

 

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#WithSyria

There are today over 1 million child refugees from Syria. Many of them are living in camps and ghettos in already fragile countries like Lebanon and Jordan. It’s pure madness what these kids are forced to endure. The world so far has responded with a lot of talk and no solutions. Thankfully, countries like Jordan are doing what they can to temporarily protect refugees fleeing the 3 year civil war near its border. Many of the young refugees lack spaces for self expression, communication and hope. That is where this project comes in. Over the past 4 months, I have been in talks to implement my arts diplomacy workshops for Syrian refugee children in Jordan. In previous years these workshops have empowered youth in Morocco and Kashmir. (My project was originally developed and carried out as a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco in 2009. Without the Fulbright, this would not be happening today.)

It has not been easy as I am but an individual with no money or high-level connections. Through some research and nauseating persistence, I have secured the necessary support I need from the German government and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The communications/arts diplomacy project is being funded for 40 days and  I am happy to say that I will be departing in May. UN agencies and local NGOs near the border of Syria are starting to take interest in my project.

I am motivated, scared and may be a little in over my head, but I know that some of the child refugees, may be not all, will take this project and run far with it. THEY will teach US all of tragedy, hope and resilience. It is intended that the project will leave with the kids skills in new media and communications. They will learn how to work together, develop creative projects about the world as they it around them, and express the ways in which they want to change things. The end result will be an archive of short films–written, directed and acted by the refugee youth.

It’s not about politics. It’s about empowerment… it’s about hope… it’s about moving mountains in a landscape of despair. Getting clearance to work in the camps has proven quite difficult. While this is in a holding pattern, I have identified local groups in towns outside the camps where my project will take root. Most of the Syrian refugees are in fact living outside the camps and enduring poverty, heart ache and lack of any hope.

Please follow this blog if you want to follow the project and connect with the refugee youth. Updates will be posted here and on my twitter handle: @mohsindin.

While researching #Syria through art, I discovered a powerful sketchbook of Joumana Ismail that tells the story of what people are going through in Syria. If you don’t know how bad it has gotten in Syria, take a look at this Vine video I took of Joumana’s sketches…

In solidarity,

Mohsin

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Karim, Rest In Peace

From first camera workshop with the orphans at Dar Lekbira in Kenitra, Morocco

Karim was one of the first street kids  I worked with and became friends with in Morocco. He passed away at the end of the summer. He was just a teenager.  Karim’s heart and smile overpowered the hardships he had to endure in his short life: poverty, family losses, cancer. His fire, that power, his smile, will live on forever. Love you Karim. You will be missed. My condolences to the children of the Dar Lekbira Association.

Here is a video of Karim during our drumming workshops in 2009:

Children of CHINAR and Arts Diplomacy: Exclusive

Come look, come listen.

See clips from exclusive film project/arts diplomacy workshops with the brilliant youth of CHINAR Orphanage in Kashmir. Here is a summary video of the workshops I did with the orphans this time last year. In particular, these oprhans wrote, directed, and acted in 4 short films tackling issues related to pollution, female education, corruption, and the importance of relgious tolerance in politics.  Politicians will remain incompetent, but the youth have their ears to the ground and much to teach us.
Dedicating this one to the beloved cousin Izhar Wani (Rest In Peace) and my brother Murt who helped make this a reality. Love and prayers to the youth of Kashmir.

Presentation to Philanthropy NY for Kashmir Valley Network

This Saturday, March 3rd, I will be speaking on a panel about LC Arts and the arts diplaomcy workshops I led for youth in Kashmir in 2011. There will be some amazing speakers sharing their projects and ideas related to the arts, philanthropy and development in Kashmir. I am looking to expand this project for youth in other regions, so I hope to meet some potential partners and donors to keep the momentum going.

Info on the panel and the workshops is here:

http://www.ettend.com/id=2131

Thanks to the Kashmir Valley Network for inviting me to present about LC Arts in Kashmir.

KASHMIR VALLEY NETWORK: http://www.kashmirvalleynetwork.org/

Location:

Philanthropy New York
75 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY

See you there!

Kids’ Messages from Kashmir and Morocco

These kids were always brilliant, and it was this arts diplomacy project that gave them a little push to begin opening some new frontiers. I am in awe of these children and their efforts to do good in this world, a world that in many ways has exploited them.  As of late, I have received messages from some of the orphans and street kids in Kashmir, India as well as Kenitra, Morocco. Thought I’d share some:
FROM KASHMIR: CHINAR ORG
“Hello Sir,
I’m Pratik Tandon. I’m interning with CHINAR kashmir. I’ve heard alot about you from the kids here. They really miss you and I can make out they had indeed spent some memorable time with you. Yesterday, they had asked me write a mail to you. They gave me a letter for you and here it goes-
Deal Mohsin Bhaya,
Aslalam Alaikum, we are kids of CHINAR. How are you?Last time we requested you talk to us online but you only sent an e-mail. Again, we are asking you about online talking. Please return in summer. We still remember your every teaching and especially your great advices. “MAKE MISTAKES..ETC”. Noor Jahan saw you in her dream that you were again teaching us.She now wants you to realise this dream.
Rubeena: I have met many foreigners but you were the best!I will never forget you.
Nusrat:I miss you very much.
Jabeena:You all great guys. I miss you.
Zubaida: Please……..come again.
Bisma:I miss you so much.
Ishrat:I hope you will come again…….in 2012. We have all passed our previous classes.
Uzma:Thanks a lot for giving us precious gift of knowledge. You encouraged us to be brave. I still remember when we lost game with boys and were sobbing but you were the one who encouraged us, I love you all.
We all miss you very very……much. You all are great people and will always remain in our hearts.
PLEASE COME AGAIN.”
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MESSAGE FROM MOROCCO: Dar Lekbira Association
“good mornings mohsin im hanaa your my brather im from dar lekbira moroco kenitra. ok antadiro itisalek halian ok bay mohsin is 12ou cklook ok my brather my favourite sebgect is english and art and chante and dance and plage and teater my favourite sport is basketball and football im in class is 9 im16yers old i miiiisss youu ok by”
from Hanaa
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