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.
Vice media released a short mini documentary on #MeWeSyria’s pitch at the United Nations. WATCH HERE:
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:
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Storytelling is the way we activate and transfer the fire, energy and hope of human experience. It is the oldest gift we, as human beings, have. It is a tool for reflection, understanding, creativity and changemaking. This is why the MeWe youth storytelling initiative is so powerful, as it aims to amplify the storytelling capacities of disadvantaged youth worldwide.
#MeWeSyria is coming to California State University on 22 April. The interactive panel will include a screening of some of the young refugees’ stories and messages, and a discussion on the power of storytelling for youth engagement and social development.
MeWe Syria and refugee’s film honored at United Nations Alliance of Civilization Youth Film Festival.
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” 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.
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.
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?’
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.
Here are some pictures taken while leading #MeWeSyria communications workshops in the #Zaatari refugee camp. Syrian refugee youth–enduring harsh sun and desert weather–bravely managed to write and direct their own films about hardships, hope, equality, and their dreams. The boys and girls groups, pictured below, successfully completed 4 short films of their own. Thanks to Jamie from the @Questscope NGO. Questscope kindly hosted my project and are leading incredible mentoring and informal education programs inside Zaatari refugee camp.
In the usual discourse, stories about refugees tend to be driven by numbers. Thirty-five: the amount of liters of water allowed per person, per day in the Za’atari refugee camp for Syrian refugees. Five-hundred thousand: the approximate number of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Four hundred: the number of Syrians crossing into Jordan on most days. Seventeen: the average number of years people in the world are living as refugees. But there is something beyond the numbers that does not get visibility.
While implementing the MeWe communications workshops for Syrian refugees, I recently had the privilege of getting to know Syrian youths living inside Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp and in the city of Zarqa. Here is what I felt and saw: resistance and the courage to hope.
No, I do not mean ‘resistance’ in the sense of politics and warfare. Instead, I am speaking of resistance to arresting one’s life to darkness and giving-up. I saw resistance when meeting a refugee in Za’atari setting up his room inside a caravan in order to properly receive his wife, who is still across the border in Syria. Resistance is mustering the courage and discipline to go to class in the refugee camp, walking through dust storms under the hot sun, just to try and learn something new. Resistance is celebrating the birth of a child in the camp; openly remembering home; and thinking of your dreams before the war and how to pursue them after it. It’s sharing your 35 liters of water with a neighbor in more need of it. Resistance is cracking a smile in the face of darkness. These are are moments of the human sprit that weather the world’s failures everyday. Beyond the ‘burden’ narrative surrounding refugees, everyday in places like Za’atari, refugees are choosing to live and give back to the world, instead of taking from it or cursing it as the dominant narrative seems to portray.
I have been leading communications workshops for refugee youth, and in the process have see their brilliance and spirit of resistance first hand. Over the course of six weeks, six short films were written, directed and performed by the refugees themselves. These films share some of the insights, stories and dreams for their future. Everything in this project — from how the camera is held to the messages — is a product of the hearts, minds and hard work of the refugee youth. None of the stories were political. Instead, they explored topics of not giving up on one’s dreams, discrimination against people with disabilities, and the importance of hope.
The initial workshops started with awkward silence, empty pages and frustrated sighs. Throughout the intensive workshops, the refugee youth were challenged to debate the significance of communications, to make mistakes, and to open up spaces for confidence and self expression. The biggest barriers I noticed were in the youth’s lack of ability to imagine and think beyond the physical and political conditions imposed upon them. Many did not know what imagination was or why it was important. The same was true for the concept of communications.
By the end of the workshops however, the room was filled with positive energy and the noise of creativity and ambition. Each smile cracked away at anxiety, lack of self confidence and fear. It is these tiny cracks that eventually let the light in. “There may be concrete walls around us now in this room and around Za’atari, refugee camp,” I told the groups. “In the mind and the heart, we must not have walls. Instead, we have keys to solutions, lessons, new ideas.”
Inch by inch, we hammered at these barriers and gradually moved towards message delivery, script writing and film making. All the while, the workshops reminded the youth that in order to change our own condition, as well as that of our world, we must learn to first listen and speak to ourselves, and then we must speak to the world. None of the messages were violent or political.
The films are currently in a public exhibition at the Young Eyes Gallery in Amman, Jordan. The urban refugees from Zarqa attended the opening last week and proudly presented their messages to the community. Since the Za’atari refugees were unable to get the necessary permissions to leave the camp, we put on a cinema and presentation inside the refugee camp at Questscope’s caravan. (See the #MeWeSyria video above about the final screenings.)
What is the point of all this, really? Why do all this? One man provided me the answer to these questions. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark,” he said.
The barriers are perceived as unbreakable, but what I found was that barriers can and will be broken down all the time, all around us. The world may be failing the youth of Syria by not realizing peace, but the youth of Syria will not fail the world.
*This project would not have been possible without the support of the German government, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, UNFPA, the Family Guidance Awareness Center, the staff and brilliant volunteers of Questscope — supported by UNESCO and EU — and the Young Eyes Arts Center.