Notes from the Field

#MeWe International Inc. | August 2019 — September 2020 Updates

Photo of #MeWeSyria in Azraq Refugee Camp, November 2019, by Wyatt Winborne

We remain humbled and grateful to get to do the work we do in times like these, where the fabric of humanity — how we communicate and why — is being weaponized, threatened, and redefined.

After February 2020, everything as we knew it changed forever, for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our organization; how we typically perform; and how we plan. Most importantly, the pandemic exacerbates inequality and the safety of the communities we serve from the Middle East to the Americas.

Our North Star remains the brothers and sisters we serve and co-create. Why? Be it the refugee mother from Syria, or the youth activist in Honduras, all of them have been navigating threats to health, lack of mobility, threats to life, and trauma before COVID-19. These communities possess leadership, perspectives, and creative capital that can inform and empower the billions of people across the world struggling to deal with the disruptions and fear the pandemic has unleashed in our world today.

As an organization, #MeWeIntl made an intention to move slowly through our world of uncertainty, and not react out of fear. Since April 2020, we have restructured our budget to keep us moving through March 2021. Programmatically, we have pivoted from our in-person community engagements, to virtual and mobile phone program delivery across all locations globally. Logistically, we have even been buying phone cards and mobile services for some of our community facilitators and participants so that technology and poverty do not persist as barriers to engagement. We also went through a process of reevaluating our community partnerships by identifying strengths, and correcting weaknesses where possible, in close collaboration with our community allies. We are accelerating moving programs like #MeWeSyria to open-sourced models, and are transitioning out of some local sub-grant and implementation partnerships which have run their course in Turkey and Lebanon. In many ways, the pandemic and global disruptions forced us, #MeWeIntl, to be still and thoughtful, while at the same time challenging us to accelerate our original plans of program innovation and transitions to community ownership of #MeWeIntl tools and programming.

We’ve had tough choices to make. Still do in fact. At times we had to ask ourselves whether we keep fighting, or do we stop all together? Despite the uncertainty and global shutdowns, #MeWeIntl and its community partners have successfully completed subgrants and community interventions with more than 10 local partners and #MeWeIntl implementers across Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Germany, Mexico, Honduras and the United States, from February -September 2020. Grants to #MeWeIntl successfully closed with Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, Community Arts Labs, and Mercy Corps Jordan between March and August. For these trainings and community actions, more than 50 community trainers activated by #MeWeIntl transferred #MeWeSyria, #MeWeMexico, and #MeWeHonduras and other programs to more than 1400 youth and caregivers from vulnerable communities.

As we head into September with no end to the pandemic in sight, we are ready to launch new phases of #MeWeSyria in Turkey and Jordan, and #MeWeMexico and #MeWeHonduras in Mexico and Honduras. We are also initiating a new program, #MeWeDC, with detained and incarcerated youth in Washington D.C.

Some critical questions remain: How can we measure the impacts and effectiveness of our virtual program delivery? What happens if the pandemic passes and in-person programming can resume? What risks exist and should be mitigated if virtual and digital interventions carry on for another year? How do we maintain local community support to partners in a sustainable way — especially in financially disruptive times under Covid-19?

Lastly, we realized that in times like these, it is necessary to give actions and opportunities for leadership and creative expression to our communities. In the coming months we will publish a series of books, release a short animated film, and post physical billboards in the community — -all featuring the creative capital and perspectives of the underrepresented and vulnerable communities we serve.

In the words of our partner Quiet, “We believe in cultural currency — which increases by giving, and cannot be owned…’.

We stand in solidarity with all our #MeWeIntl family from Jordan to Honduras. I’d like to thank local partners in this family for their trust and continued collaboration: Questscope (Jordan and Germany), DARB (Turkey), Mobaderoon (Lebanon), Women’s Support Association (Turkey), Mercy Corps Jordan, OYE (Honduras), Honduras Social, Tejiendo un Sueño (Mexico), Human Rights Initiative (Texas), DYRS (Washington D.C.), Aga Khan Museum, QUIET, and Community Arts Labs.

Below are some updates for the mountains that have been moved recently.

#BLACKLIVESMATTER,

Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, Founder of #MeWeIntl

Community Programs and Impacts, August 2019-September 2020

#MeWeSyria in Germany

● July/August 2019: #MeWeIntl funded and led a series of #MeWeSyria sessions for more than 10 Syrian refugees. The sessions also included training of trainers work which activated 4 Syrian community trainees to lead their own #MeWeSyria hubs in Berlin between the end of 2019-September 2020.

● #MeWeSyria sessions in Germany were severely disrupted during COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead of abandoning the program however, #MeWeIntl, and its local partner Questscope, piloted virtual engagements. This was somewhat successful, and now #MeWeSyria sessions can be attended by refugees from outside Germany, across Europe. One session invited Syrians from the Netherlands.

● To date, 3 #MeWeSyria hubs — 2 in person and 1 virtual — have been completed and led by 4 local refugee trainees reaching more than 32 Syrian refugees. None of this would have been possible without local volunteers and facilitators Zena and Zozan. #MeWeIntl is currently reassessing programmatic and financial sustainability of the program in Germany.

#MeWeSyria in Jordan

Za’atari refugee camp

● #MeWeIntl designed and led more than 4 trainings of trainers for over 12 Syrian community trainers in Zaatari refugee camp, through our partnership with Questscope. #MeWeIntl’s subgrants to Questscope in Zaatari are funded by the Ford Foundation. 2019–2020 trainings for Syrian refugee trainees focused on self care, facilitation skills, communications as a tool for healing, and video production and interviewing.

● From July 2019 through August 2020–Syrian community trainers outreached and successfully facilitated the #MeWeSyria programs to more than 510 refugee youth in Zaatari refugee camp.

● In early 2020, #MeWeIntl ally, psychologist Alexandra Chen, led a 1.5 day workshop for a group of 10+ Syrian #MeWeSyria facilitators targeting self care and facilitation skills.

● In November 2019, #MeWeIntl brought to Zaatari refugee camp artists and filmmakers Rafe Scoobey-Thal and Wyatt Winborne who led production workshops for Syrian facilitators in the camp. The artists also filmed and produced two short films documenting #MeWeIntl’s work, and built an archive of professionally shot photos of workshops in Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps.

● COVID-19 forced a lockdown in the refugee camp, and a suspension of all program activities. However, #MeWeIntl — in collaboration with Questscope — adapted the program to be led virtually through WhatsApp. Thanks to our brave community trainers already living in the refugee camp, more than 120 participants were reached from June-August 2020.

● A new #MeWeSyria phase is currently being designed with Questscope in Zaatari refugee camp, with an anticipated start date for mid September 2020-March 2021.

Azraq refugee camp April 2019-March 2020

● #MeWeIntl, through a partnership with Mercy Corps Jordan, designed and led more than 3 trainings of trainers to 4 Syrian refugee trainees in Village 5 of Azraq refugee camp.

● The Syrian trainees outreached and bravely led the program to more than 100 refugee youth in the camp from July 2019-January 2020.

● Trainees and alumni organized the first #MeWeSyria community event inside Azraq refugee camp. Over 500 people participated in the event at the end of February, 2020.

● The 1 year pilot was funded by the Trip Advisor Foundation through Mercy Corps Jordan.

● Due to positive feedback and demand from refugees to continue #MeWeSyria in Azraq, Mercy Corps Jordan have invited #MeWeIntl to initiate another 4 month phase from September 2020 -December 2020

#MeWeSyria in Turkey and Lebanon, February 2019-May 2020

● #MeWeIntl provided subgrants to local community orgs DARB in Turkey and Mobaderoon in Lebanon to scale trainings and expand the reach of #MeWeSyria programs across 8 cities in both countries.

● #MeWeIntl designed, led, and funded more than 6 training of trainers sessions to groups of Syrian refugee Master Facilitators of the #MeWeSyria program. The local #MeWeSyria leaders then trained more than 20 refugee community facilitators across both countries. Trainings included sessions on neuro-education, self-care, and facilitation skills led by #MeWeIntl allies and experts in community programming and facilitation Maureen Jane MacPhail and psychologist Alexandra Chen.

● The passionate and dedicated Syrian facilitation teams across Turkey and Lebanon led the #MeWeSyria programs more than 670 refugee youth and caregivers. More than 70% of participants were girls and women.

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#MeWeSyria trainers Rahaf and Rama-from our partner Mobaderoon Lebanon- lead #MeWeSyria to women and girls at Anamel womens center, 2019.

● #MeWeIntl also funded and provided 1:1 and group psychological support to Syrian community trainers in both Turkey and Lebanon through partner and ally Alexandra Chen.

● Through local partner DARB, #MeWeIntl designed and funded the production of an open-sourced digital capacity-building tool for refugee community facilitators.

● COVID-19 and regional instability (Pre-pandemic) in Turkey and Lebanon disrupted community programs as national shutdowns took hold from November 2019-May 2020. Despite the instability and challenges, #MeWeSyria trainees from DARB Turkey and Mobaderoon Lebanon successfully led our programs, enhancing the communications skills and wellbeing of more than 600 refugees.

● As of August 2020, #MeWeIntl opened a new partnership with the Women’s Support Association shelter in Kilis, Turkey. #MeWeSyria trainees at the womens shelter are currently leading pilot virtual #MeWeSyria sessions with women and girls over video meetings and mobile phones.

#MeWeHonduras, August 2019-August 2020

● In August 2019, #MeWeIntl led small scale #MeWeHonduras sessions in San Pedro Sula and Progreso, and led a series of community needs assessments with local partners OYE and CASM to learn the impacts of cartel violence, corruption, and migration on youth and caregivers. Knowledge from the sessions supported the program designs for the next phase of the program. Session and field visits were organized by #MeWeHonduras ambassadors from 2018, Absalon, Meg, and Duniya, and ally QUIET brought guests Ezra Miller (actor and artists), and Brittany Packnett Cunigham (activist).

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#MeWeIntl x QUIET x Ezra Miller on #MeWeHonduras learning journey, August 2019

● In December 2019, #MeWeIntl launched 2 new partnerships with local community orgs OYE Honduras in Progreso, and Honduras Social in San Pedro Sula. From February-September 2020, #MeWeIntl has been providing subgrants to both organizations in order to support trainings, community interventions, and community support for the newly re-launched #MeWeHonduras program.

● In February 2020, #MeWeIntl trained 10 new Trainers in a 3 -day training of trainers session. After the training, national shutdowns took place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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#MeWeHonduras training of trainers session, February 2020

● #MeWeIntl worked carefully to adapt the program to be delivered over WHATSAPP and ZOOM. The 10 facilitators of #MeWeHonduras virtually lead 1 hub per team, reaching 50+ participants peer to peer from June-August 2020.

● Facilitators and participants completed “ COVID-19 live writing exercise for book” producing about 20 stories for the upcoming #MeWeIntl book.

#MeWeMexico, August 2019-August 2020

● In August 2019, #MeWeIntl led small scale #MeWeMexico sessions across Tlaxcala and Mexico City to more than 100 community members. #MeWeIntl led a community needs assessment with local partners to plan for the next phase of the program. Thanks to local #MeWeMexico Ambassadors Coral and Ale — #MeWeMexico alum from 2018– #MeWeIntl engaged with migrant shelters and local city mayors.

● In December 2019, #MeWeIntl launched a new partnership with local community organization, Tejiendo un Sueño in Teotihuacan, Mexico. #MeWeIntl has been providing subgrants to the organization in order to support trainings, community interventions, and community support for the newly re-launched #MeWeMexico program.

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● In February 2020, #MeWeIntl trained 10 new community trainers in a 3 -day training of trainers session. After the training, national shutdowns took place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

● 10 community trainers in Mexico were activated, and they successfully led 5 new virtual #MeWeMexico hubs, reaching 50+ new participants in their communities.

● Facilitators and participants completed “ “ COVID-19 live writing exercise for book” producing about 25 stories for the book.

#MeWeTexas, March 2020-July 2020

● 1 new #MeWeTexas pilot launched with new partner the Human Rights Initiative.

● #MeWeIntl designed the program to support the communications skills and MHPSS knowledge of families and young people seeking asylum or navigating the impacts of migration.

● Due to COVID-19, the March 2020 in person training for 20+ community members was cancelled for participants in order to protect the vulnerable. However, #MeWeIntl adapted the training and program to be virtual over Zoom.

● 3 youth completed program online + demonstrated enthusiasm and communications skills development.

● Community facilitators from our #MeWeHonduras hubs led cross- cultural sessions over Zoom.

#MeWeDC, September 2019-September 2020

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● From September 2019-August 2020, #MeWeIntl met with officials and community leaders from the District of Youth and Rehabilitation Services to explore piloting #MeWeDC for incarcerated youth in Washington D.C.

● In August 2020, #MeWeIntl and DYRS have agreed to initiate #MeWeDC sessions from September 2020-March 2021. The program will engage 26 ‘Title 16’ youth, between 16–21 years old, who are awaiting sentencing.

#MeWeIntl x Aga Khan Museum, July 2020

● In July 2020, #MeWeIntl designed a 1 day training of trainers session for educators and staff at the Aga Khan Museum. The trainees led a six-week children’s camp focused on a current exhibit, “ What is Sanctuary?”, using the #MeWeIntl methodology.

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READ THE FULL ARTICLE AND ALL OF OUR 2019-2020 UPDATES ON OUR NEW MEDIUM BLOG:https://medium.com/@meweinternational/notes-from-the-field-3c669c79c6e5

Berlin pilot and public event!

 

Screen Shot 2019-01-03 at 12.52.40 PM.pngIn the fall of 2018, #MeWeSyria were invited by our partner Questscope and the British Council to lead a 5 day combination and trauma-helaing session for a group of 15 Syrian leaders and refugees in Berlin. During the week, Syrian leaders, for the 1st time, engaged in #MeWe exercises on breathing, goal-setting, trauma-healing, communications,  perspective taking, and leadership development. #MeWe led the sessions with experts Michael Niconchuk from Beyond Conflict, and Justine Hardy, for Healing Kashmir.

At the end of the intensive training, #MeWeSyria co-led a storytelling event with the Syrian participants. The event was meant for Germans in the community to engage with refugees through communications and the arts. This was the first time Syrian participants at the Migration Hub space led and organized such a public event. For many of the participants, the week’s #MeWeSyria trainings enabled Syrian participants to open up and communicate their stories, challenge,s goals, and emotions for the 1st time.

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Check out this article and photos from Pass the Crayon, who participated in the event…

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#MeWeIntl in Iraq

In collaboration with trauma-healing expert Michelle Girard of Third Paradigm, and Mosul Organization for Development, #MeWeIntl led two 5-day #MeWe trainings for more than 40 Iraqi leaders and survivors from Mosul in September and November 2018.

The trainings–which focused on trauma-healing through storytelling and communications– were highly successful, and participants have reported reduced aggression and fear, as well as enhanced goal-setting and communication capacities.

Much to unpack and share. Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, check out this video of #MeWeIntl trainings in Iraq made by local partner Rooh Mosulia:

MiT Solve partnership + VICE Impact!

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.

#MEWESYRIA @ MIT
#MEWESYRIA ON STAGE WITH PRESIDENT OF MIT

 

Vice media released a short mini documentary on #MeWeSyria’s pitch at the United Nations. WATCH HERE:

#MEWESYRIA @VICEIMPACT
WATCH VICE FOLLOW US ON OUR JOURNEY TO PITCH OUR INNOVATION TO SOLVE MIT AT THE UNITED NATIONS

 

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:

 

#MEWESYRIA FEATURES NEW MESSAGES AND STORYTELLING CONTENT FROM REFUGEE YOUTH TEAMS ON VICE

 

#MeWeSyria at MiT/United Nations

What a surprising week. Solve MiT selected #MeWeSyria as a finalist to pitch our innovation at the United Nations, and we won!!! We are honored and excited at the prospect of connecting with the resources of MiT, other Solvers, and private sector partners and companies. This win could help us scale and globalize this year. If you are interested in supporting our network, please get in touch with me in the [get involved] section.

This is a victory for our brave and beautiful Syrian changemaker teams in Jordan (with Questscope), Turkey (with Darb_Syr), and Lebanon. This program is built on their hard work and dedication to fighting spaces of darkness and hopelessness each and every day. These are the invisible wars that threaten social and emotional development, and thus threaten our world. We should celebrate and support Syrian youth changemakers everywhere. Congrats to all our refugee teams!! Here’s to the next big steps!! We head to MiT in May!

You can watch our winning pitch at the United Nations below:

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

Updates: Scaling up in Zaatari Refugee Camp

IMG_7073After introducing #MeWeSyria to refugees in Turkey in January, in February I returned to where #MeWeSyria first launched with refugees back in 2014: Zaatari refugee camp with the Questscope NGO. Since 2014, the program has planted the seed for changemaking and peer to peer communication, critical thinking, creativity and self expression.

Returning to the camp, I saw more babies accompanying siblings playing in the dirt alleys in between tents and trailers. With the war now entering its fifth year, more and more children are being born in the refugee camp and the hope and optimism so crucial for survival and stability seems to be waning for some–understandably. The world continues to fail the people of Syria.

On my first day back in the camp, it became clear that confusion and mistrust had developed among some of the Syrian refugee trainees and myself. In an unstable, unpredictable and mentally taxing environment like the Zaatari refugee camp, time and distance can sometimes allow fiction to become reality. Some of the past trainees had misinterpreted what the program’s goals are, while others felt exploited. In such a sensitive situation, it was important to refresh spaces for listening, trust building and changemaking.

What started as a tough first day back in Zaatari ended five days later with resolve, inspiration and innovation. We together worked through mistakes and enabled a space where failure provided the fuel for stronger and meaningful changemaker impact. Now the #MeWeSyria is stronger and the Syrian replicators are clear on goals and methodologies. 

In order to rebuild trust and design a way forward, I sat with the previous years’ trainees to listen, listen, listen and then present my side of where some break downs happened. I gained much insight as to what the refugee leaders needed to make the program more consistent and impactful.

Pictured below is a list of ideas and demands the refugee trainees decided they needed for carrying out the project successfully. I am now building in their ideas and concerns into a renewed action plan for replicating the #MeWeSyria changemaker youth engagements so that it continues to be taught consistently and more effectively at the UNFPA Youth Center in the Questscope Caravan.

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Another take-away was that too much emphasis was being put on filming and the equipment. This was a clear misunderstanding guided by traditional education programs’ emphasis on outputs and deliverables–with little focus given to emotional intelligence.

In actuality, the making of a storytelling product is not the aim of the Me/We program. Media and equipment are secondary.  Emphasis of the MeWe program is on activating– in the refugee youth– the discovery of their inner changemakers while equipping youth with the mental tools and hard skills for stepping into their story and contributing a verse of positive changemaking  in the theater of our world.

In the following days, I worked with the refugee teachers to deep-dive into concepts of social innovation, changemaking, old world versus new world, building team of teams, fluid leadership and the importance of youth-led communication. Most crucial to this process was making sure the trainees had the space and support to localize and put into context these complex concepts so that there was local ownership of the issues and program. Pictured below: #MeWeSyria replicators co-lead a training session where we explored story-arcs and identifying target audiences.

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I also took ample time to introduce key Me/We exercises that provide an experiential classroom for exercising critical thinking, working in team of teams, express emotion and ideas, and pluralism. One of the main exercises is the writing and video blogging exercises for the youth to identify and express the power of their ‘why’. This is a part of the program where many internal shifts take place for the participants. It pushes critical thinking and fosters spaces of self expression and empathy that is peer-to peer led. Often times we are forced to memorize, repeat and act without any thought as to ‘why’. In a world where society prioritizes ‘the hows’ and ‘the what’, the question of why is a powerful starting point for activating a changemaker journey. Pictures below, a young Syrian participant dives into critical thinking and writing his personal ‘why’.

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After first exploring the power of their ‘why’, trainees then run through video blogging their thoughts and ideas on Mac Air laptops I donated. Ideating and writing are only part of the equation. Pushing the record button becomes much more than a computer click. It becomes an exercise in actively eroding internal barriers and fears for expressing ideas. Pushing down on the button becomes an act of changeamaking launched through creativity and self expression. These vlogging exercises reinforce the importance for changemakers to connect their hearts, with their minds and their breath. (See picture above.)

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By facilitating an experiential process for changemaker discoveries and communication, we established a stronger layer of trust, co-creation and deeper changemaker understanding in Zaatari camp with Questscope. These youth mentors will now team up to continue offering the #MeWeSyria program to young refugees in the camp.

On the final day, we handed out certificates and finalized a co-designed action plan in which the Syrian teachers and youth mentors of Questscope will complete facilitating 6 storytelling for changemaker sessions for at least 60 young Syrian refugees (boys and girls), over the next 12 months. They will also organize cinema nights showcasing the changemaker storytelling ideas and messages of the youth. (Pictured below, certificates handed out to Questscope trainees inside the refugee camp.)

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Incentivization is key, especially when considering the diplomas, certificates and histories of millions of Syrians has been lost in the fog of war. Providing documentation of how far we have come and ensuring that MeWe students and trainees have certificates is no small matter.

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The friction and frustration we encountered on the first day transformed as we harnessed it as positive energy needed to break walls and enhance spaces for youth-led changemaking in the darkest of places. More exciting things to come from our brave changemakers inside Zaatari refugee camp. Stay tuned!

**Powered by ….

Ashoka’s Youth Venture | Germany | Questscope 

Bringing #MeWeSyria to American TV

Here are some stills of Al Jazeera America’s report on our #MeWeSyria program from inside Zaatari refugee camp. This news coverage–which highlights the creative enterprise and change-maker capacities of refugee youth–comes at a time in America where there is much fear and misunderstanding surrounding the narrative of Syria’s youth.

I will post the news video link once it is up.

#MeWeSyria is still operating inside Zaatari refugee camp and now being replicated and localized by refugees working at the Questscope NGO in Jordan. I will be returning to Jordan in February for follow up training of trainers and teachers inside Zaatari camp.

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Me/We working with Ashoka in South Africa

With student storytellers and changemakers from the African School for Excellence
With student storytellers and changemakers from the African School for Excellence

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.

workshops with students from the African School for Excellence
workshops with students from the African School for Excellence

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.

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.