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.

Refugees making bold moves in Zarqa

 

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Today I began the first batch of communications workshops–under the ‘Me/We’ initiative I founded– with Syrian refugees at the Family Guidance Awareness Center in Zarqa.

As with the introductory communications workshops at Zaatari refugee camp, the first hour was spent exploring the concept of communications with the refugee youth, and setting up a safe space for making mistakes and trying new things. The kids nailed the music workshops and grew increasingly excited at their new found ability to read, write and play their own rhythm compositions.

Most extraordinary about today’s workshops was how the kids dove into the video and story writing. We set a goal of coming out with 2 to 3 short films written and directed by them. To start, I split the kids in groups of 2. The stories could be on any topic of their choice, with one condition: the stories must end with something positive and should challenge the audience to take away a lesson from their story.

Immediately, the girls began drafting stories about their journey from Syria to Jordan. Things began to take a graphic turn among the girls’ group. They began sharing stories of the violence they saw and the horrific stories they heard. The flood gates opened and I was not going to stop them from expressing what they have been holding inside, no matter how unpleasant. Their stories of violence were even told with some humor, oddly enough. Many of the girls wrote of how they saw the army take young kids and cut their heads of in front of their mothers. Many were forced to flee after young men were being kidnapped and murdered, leaving the women without protection. Others wrote about the difficult journey they endured to flee the violence in Syria. These girls clearly felt the need to teach the world about just how bad it is in Syria. Just as they were allowed to express their stories of hardship on paper, I challenged the groups to tie the stories to a positive transition in which they wrote of the things they wish to see, and how they hope to change the world around them for the better. Debates and ideas bounced around the room on how to make things better and how each wishes to see an end to the violence and a return to their homes.

Just as the girls were delving into video ideas about their journeys from Syria, the boys group had a different approach. I pre-selected the boy’s first video/ communications project. Hamza is an 11 year old Syrian refugee who happens to be blind. In order to challenge how people see Hamza– and to strengthens Hamza’s story telling and communications abilities— Hamza will be writing and directing his own short film, supported by the all boys team.

It was difficult to get Hamza to speak up and take the lead since most everyone around him felt the need to speak for him, as if Hamza lacked the ability to speak for himself. But with patient guidance, we pushed Hamza to start speaking out and taking the lead. He will be directing a story about his life: what keeps him happy, what gives him strength and what he wants to be when he grows up. He wants to be a doctor some day.

 

Today started with awkward silence, but by the end of the three hour workshops, the room was filled with positive energy and the noise of creativity and ambition. Forward we march.

In solidarity,

Mohsin Mohi Ud Din

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The workshops I am embarking on would not be possible without the help of my main facilitator Manal and the volunteers at the Family Guidance Awareness Center in Zarqa: Manahil, Noor and Ayoub. A special thanks to Sara Demeter for connecting me to FGAC. She has her own organization for empowering youth called: Arts Resource Collaborative for Kids.

Make Mistakes! Workshops day 1 Kashmir

As mentioned earlier, Lollipops Crown is carrying on with its projects, this year in the valley of Kashmir, India. Read Here. The project with CHINAR, it must be mentioned, are to be nonpolitical and non commercial. This is simply an arts initiative for disadvantaged youth, not about the Kashmir conflict or Kashmir’s political situation, even if the conflict is in the background of where we live and work.

The children of CHINAR are extremely kind, well mannered and gentle. I must say they are also quite intelligent. The other day I had the first formal workshop with the kids. I will be conducting music, film, and arts workshops with Kashmiri orphans at the CHINAR home 3 days a week.

20 or so Kashmiri boys and girls sat across a room. I made them gather in a circle. It occurred to me early on that we had to as a group challenge the shyness and confidence levels in our group, especially amongst the girl participants.  A lack of confidence can come from a fear of making mistakes. But without mistakes, how can one evolve and learn and discover? These were the most important points to share with the kids. The most comfortable way one can promote this is through music. The first workshops so far will be music, in particular, building the kids’ confidence levels in expression through teaching them how to read, write, and play basic rhythm notation. The approach should be ultra sensitive towards the kids feeling inadequate or incapable of performing and reading. Perseverance is also another lesson that can be learned in these workshops.

I introduced the instrument I bought for the orphanage from America, called a Cajon. The kids did not know how to read music or play the drum. I first pushed the boys then the girls to just hit the drum once, as hard as they could. They became unafraid of making noise which is crucial. The girls especially were unwilling to hit the drum loud but eventually started having fun and were letting their guard down.

I then began teaching basic rhythm notation, writing on a cracked white board. The kids started learning how to clap basic rhythms in quarter notes then eight notes and eventually got comfortable on reading rhythms. The next step in building their confidence was having the kids come to the front of the room to write their rhythm composition and have the class play it together. The excercise went extremely well. Both the girls and boys were writing music, when just an hour before they couldn’t say they knew how. The boys and girls were reading one another’s compositions and playing them together and listening to one another. Once they finished, the composers signed their names next to the musical sentence they composed.

Everyone  wanted to keep going. I asked them, ” If someone asks you can you read music, what will you say?” The kids responded in a low tone, “Yes.” I said ” Come on look at what you created today!” The kids then screamed in urdu “Yes!!” Not a bad first. Much more work to be done.

**SUPPORT CHINAR HOME —donate at http://www.chinar.org

****DISCLAIMER: the views expressed in this blog are of Mohsin Mohi Ud Din alone, and in no way reflect the views of the kids or the centers and staff associated with this project*****