#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.

WATCH

#MeWeSyria series for UNHCR Innovation

I am excited to announce that I will be doing a series for UNHCR Innovation on approaches for disrupting status quo youth engagements in education and social development. The first article in this series with UNHCR Innovation shares some insights and recommendations from my recent training-of-trianers session for the #MeWeSyria/ Youth Venture program running with Questscope at the UNFPA/Questscope Youth Center in Zaatari refugee camp, as well as #MeWeSyria’s activation in Turkey with Darb Sy.

An excerpt is provided below. Read the full article on UNHCR Innovation, here.

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“We sat on a bench under the sun conversing amidst sounds of young boys playing soccer and kids running to their next classes.

This is seemingly a normal interaction that could be anywhere, like Central Park in New York for instance. But this was not a normal setting by any means. The bench we were chatting on was in a refugee camp. This was not a park with trees and grass and birds. This was Zaatari camp, where we are surrounded by tents and trailers enclosed by concrete walls and barbed wire. For 5 years now, Syrian families have taken refuge from a civil war that has metastasized across the region and claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The kids we hear were playing on a makeshift patch of turf, where there used be only rocks and dust. The Questscope NGO and UNFPA have managed to bring in a small patch of color to this otherwise binary landscape of grey and brown.

The person I am sitting with is one of the young  trainees I have been engaging while running the Ashoka Youth Venture’s #MeWeSyria program . But he is no ordinary teenage kid. He is a young Syrian who is raising his brother on his own and has his parents and siblings separated in numerous countries as a result of war. As a teenager, in one lifetime he has to play father, mother, and sibling for his younger brother…..”

Recommendations:

A resilient peace and the future development of Syria depends on all of us collaborating as a team of teams towards valuing and supporting Syria’s young change makers today by flipping status quo approaches to youth refugee engagement. Status quo systems enabled the persistence of the war in Syria as we know it today. Let’s together flip systems to raise up, not contain, Syria’s young changemakers. This will require us to apply the following approaches in our youth engagements:

  • Experiential programs that disrupt internal barriers to self-expression, critical thinking, creativity, and pluralism
  • Peer-to-peer learning that self-replicates culture tipping towards: team of teams, fluid leadership, empathy and creative problem-solving
  • Opportunities for young people to step into their own story and tackle the ‘whys’ instead of the ‘what’ and ‘hows’
  • Replication templates that allow for co-creation with community leaders, youth mentors and teachers for localization and relevancy

#MeWeSyria has been made possible thanks in large part to support from the German Mission to the United Nations.

First Person Report: #MeWeSyria on Al Jazeera America

The Founder of #MeWeSyria and Director of Storytelling Innovation for Ashoka’s Youth Venture sits down with Al Jazeera America for a First Person Report on how the Syria’s youth are decentralizing the power of narrative and tapping into their inner changemakers through the storytelling for changemakers program, #MeWeSyria.

Produced by Tom Ranzweiler, Al Jazeera America and featuring behind the scenes clips of the #MeWeSyria program operating in Zaatari refugee with host NGO, Questscope. Learn more at bit.ly/meweunite. Support Questscope at www.questscope.org. The #MeWeSyria program is possible thanks to support from Germany.

#MeWeSyria premieres @ exhibition in Berlin

As part of Kai Wiedenhöfer’s photo exhibition opening at the Federal Foreign Office in Germany this week, #MeWeSyria will have its own wall showcasing 1 of the Syrian-made storytelling pieces from the #MeWeSyria program which is now operating in Jordan and Turkey. The #MeWeSyria peice on exhibition–which is housed in the German government’s Foreign Office–was written and produced by the Syrian’s inside Zaatari refugee camp with the host NGO, Questscope.We are connecting the voices, ideas and changemaking of young Syrians in Zaatari to otherwise closed-off spaces. Special thanks to the Foreign Ministry of Germany for the opportunity.

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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 

#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

#MEWESYRIA IN TURKEY

 

Thanks to support from Germany, #MeWeSyria is planting its seed in Turkey with a partnership with DARB-SY, a community-building organization. I am leading training of trainers sessions with adult and youth mentors and social innovators. The trainees, with Darb’s support, will then replicate the #MeWeSyria program in Turkey for refugee youth. Each day has shown extraordinary breakthrough moments for increasing spaces of self expression, pluralism, creative enterprise and social changemaking. I am so excited to have found such inspiring and passionate peace-builders and youth advocates with DARB. There is so much to share, but in the meantime here are some visual updates of #MeWeSyria and DARB in action:

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Sustainability and Equipment: Donation of the #MeWeSyria toolkit, (thanks Germany)

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The adult and youth community-builders of DARB. This team are changemakers who will localize and replicate #MeWeSyria.

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Changemaker deep-dives. We explore and define pathways critical for thriving in the new framework of a world where change is the only constant. Here we explore the need to equip young people with opportunities to practice building a team of teams and fluid leadership and changemaking.  Ashoka’s Youth Venture has been leading such work with the youth ecosystem for years. 

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Some of the Syrian trainees made rules for creating a safe space.

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Video-blogging opens up self-reflection, critical thinking and self-expression: A breakththrough moment is using storytelling and communication as a tool for changemaker discoveries. The exercise–which trainees will replicate with youth– will also open spaces for building confidence, expressing their inner-changemakers /ideas, and peer-to-peer cognitive empathy.

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Animation and camera work to express ideas and messages. This builds team of teams, fluid leadership and 21st skills in using new media. 

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Script and storyboard design focused on changemaking and youth-led social innovation and community-building.

More to come!!

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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#MeWeSyria on Al Jazeera America tonight, 8pm

As promised, Al Jazeera America tonight is airing a news piece on my‪#‎MeWeSyria‬ project with Syrian refugees in Zaatari refugee camp. I have no idea how they will edit the piece, but I hope the interview shines a light on the brilliance, bravery and humanity and creative capital of Syria’s youth. Syria’s youth and its refugees are the solution, not the problem. They and we are all changemakers. Hopefully the Al Jazeera story tonight will feature the hard work of my refugee partners inside the camps who are part ofQuestscope: Nadin Ehraki Almajd Kh Alaa Scope Reema Hmd. Tune into Al Jazeera America tonight 8pm or follow hashtag #MeWeSyria for more.

The power of  and creative enterprise can redefine the narratives surrounding  ‘s youth  and its , and the process of creative enterprise can lead to experiential learning of how to be a changemaker.

Stay tuned… Al Jazeera America Ashoka’s Youth Venture Ashoka

#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