#MeWe going international!

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I am pleased to announce #MeWe International Inc. is now registered as a non-profit C-corporation, and is in process of filing for 501C3 status!

Much else has also been going on. Too much to share here, so below are some highlights!

Some quick highlights:

#MeWe International Inc. are launching small country pilots in partnership with the U.S. State Department and local orgs:

March: Tajikistan, with Y Peer Tajikistan | April: Moldova, with CDA | April: Ecuador, with Esquel and Plan International | May: Mexico, with Ashoka Mexico | May: Honduras, with CCS and Oye. Stay tuned for more….

#MeWe accepts OPEN IDEO award from Australia DFAT and Innovation Exchange

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In February we were in Australia to accept the award for the #EIEChallenge, or education in emergencies challenge. This award will able #MeWe to boost our refugee-led network, and build in new tools. While in Australia, we were trained by Open Ideo on  human centered design principles and built new prototypes to improve our work. Stay tuned…

New article on VICE Impact and more insights published on UNHCR Innovation’s Year in Review!

Read our latest article for Vice, here.

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Read our latest article for UNHCR Innovation, here.

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#MeWe speaks at Wilton Park Forum on Mental Health, hosted by Save the Children and DFID

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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: 
Donate Button

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

Back in Zaatari Refugee Camp

I’m back in #zaatari refugee camp, where #MeWeSyria began 4 years ago with just 1 camera and twenty-five refugee youth. Today, the refugee youth-led program has reached more than 700 refugee youth across 8 cities in 3 countries.

This week, I am in the camp with my partner and friend, neuroscientist Michael Niconchuk, co-creating youth spaces for healing, communication, and community building through my #MeWeSyria methodology.

You and me may see only concrete walls and barbed wire. But these Syrian refugee youth see a call to build spaces for healing & changemaking in the harshest of places.

This week we will be engaging with 12 of our refugee youth replication teams from Questscope on further co-creation, capacity-building, and improving the overall localization of the program. We will tackle concepts of media literacy, self-care, brain science and communications, and our mental health and psychosocial support pedagogy.

The replication teams will target 144-180 refugee youth, ages 15–25, over the course of 6 months.

 

Honored and happy to co-create w/ these heroes.

 

Our latest on UNHCR Innovation hub

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Check out our latest article for #UnitedNations UNHCR Innovation on our storytelling for changemakers work with young Syrians. Please take a few to hear Syrian youth messages and engage w: their creativity and ideas. #MeWeSyriahttp://innovation.unhcr.org/narrative-control-power/

Here is an excerpt:

In life, there are things we cannot control: where we are born; the color of our skin; our parents; or the rapid pace of change in our personal lives and in our societies.

On the other hand, stories,  by nature, are  free. In the face of uncontrollable variables, every person, young and old, possesses the power of narrative and the ability to formulate new realities and ideas. Stories are blank canvases in which the author is in control, using the past and the imagination to create a new reality.

When it comes to the story of Syria, and how the international community and Syrians themselves interact with it, it’s  no surprise that extremists, political plays, and tragedy colonize the narrative space. It’s also not surprising that the production and consumption of stories of suffering, fear, and violence results in the international community’s desensitization to Syrians’ plight and of refugee youth from numerous communities. But less obvious is the risk of Syrian and other refugee youth accepting a world of consequences instead of innovating a world choices, for an entire generation. This risk carries direct implications for humanitarian efforts and for sustainable peace and development.

A story can be a simulator, where anyone can practice control, exercise imagination, build empathy, and test a range of human conditions, failures, and triumphs.

For most of us, the push of  a ‘record’ button on a camera, the push of a key, the ink on a piece of paper seem as though they are insignificant acts. But words and the process of connecting feelings and ideas to paper and media have power.

Check out recent pieces produced and shot by young Syrian refugees from the Darb-Syr community organization in Gaziantep, Turkey during Youth Venture’s #MeWeSyria program. What you see is a finished story, but the real story is what transpired  as young Syrians stepped into their stories and connected mind and heart with their breaths. Through collaborative storytelling exercises, young Syrians practiced working in creative teams, leadership, creative problem-solving skills, and connected passions with problems. What was built was not just a video, but a tangible youth-led space for empathy and ideas sharing that lasts beyond the actual days of the workshops and trainings READ MORE ON UNHCR

 

 

 

 

#storytelling for #Changemakers Darb Syr Questscope Ashoka’s Youth Venture

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.

#ICYMI: Watch #MeWeSyria on UNHCR Panel

What is the value-added of integrating storytelling and creative arts programs in education and humanitarian response programs for young people? I had the pleasure of discussing this and other important innovation topics with Film Aid, Nee Nee Productions, UNHCR Innovation and +PlusSocialGood. Lots of great lessons learned and insights were shared. This is def worth a watch. Special thanks to UNHCR Innovation for inviting #MeWeSyria and Ashoka’s Youth Venture to participate.

Read my latest series for UNHCR Innovation here.

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#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

#HopeOverFear: Me/We on Al Jazeera America

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…

WATCH HERE:

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/embed.html/content/ajam/watch/shows/live-news/2015/12/muslim-american-speaks-out-against-donald-trump

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watch clip:

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/live-news/2015/12/muslim-american-speaks-out-against-donald-trump.html

Hope from the Ashes/ #MeWeSyria

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photo taken by refugee youth from JEN NGO during #MeWeSyria workshop in zaatari refugee cmap, 2015

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.

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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.