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.

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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Partnership 2011 w/ Bright Light Theater Company

While working on Frank Rhee’s movie over  the summer I returned from Morocco, my co-star Blair and I got to talking about combining my arts initiative from Morocco with real actors and a theater production company in America. This would provide the films, photos, and music of the street kids from the centers in Morocco (Darna, Dar Lekbira, Al Wafa, and ASCMP Drug Clinic), a key outlet from which their brilliance and creativity and perspectives could be seen and heard internationally. The arts would literally bridge the stories of Arab youth to young Actors and audiences in America.

I am pleased to say that production is under way for ALL PLACES FROM HERE, a partnership of Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative with the Bright Light Theater Company based in Philadelphia.

Stay tuned, but in the mean time here is the basic info:

Bright Light in the Fringe Festival!

All Places From Here 

a cross-cultural collaboration

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Photo by: Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din

Philadelphia Fringe Festival

September 2-17

Bright Light Theatre Company has teamed up with NYC-based Fulbright Scholar Mohsin Mohi-Ud-Din in order to bring to life the multi-dimensional arts and music youth program, Lollipops Crown Music and Arts Initiative. Founded by Mohsin in Tangier, Morocco in January 2009; Lollipops Crown is a fifteen month series of music, dance, and film workshops with the street children of the region, which aims to empower the youth via the arts. By utilizing live music, urban dance, and uniquely crafted projections of the short films from Tangier, BLTC will create a full-length multi-media performance entitled All Places From Here. Through the live interpretation of these inspiring stories, the extraordinary power of dreams sheds light on the perseverance of the human soul.

“In the world of music and art, there is no right and wrong. There is only the responsibility to express what you truly feel.” (Mohsin Mohi-Uh-Din)

For more Information about Lollipops Crown visit

https://dangerville.wordpress.com/

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Photo by: Christina Ponsoran

Much Love,

BLTC

Allison, Julian, Samantha