Our world is failing the people of Syria but Syrian youth will not fail our world.
Last night was special as we got to premiere one of the Syrian refugees’ films we made in the Zaatari refugee camp under my initiative, #MeWeSyria. The film was shown at the Paley Center for Media in NY. ‘Ali’s’ film–and another made by a Syrian refugee girl– are included in the film festival’s official DVD, pictured below. Help ‘Ali’ and tens of thousands more like him keep hope. (Food assistance has stopped for December. Health care has been stalled for hundreds of thousands.) #MeWeSyria Donate to Questscope.
Read more on my Huffington Post blog here: http://huff.to/1FTxr9t
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.
My new article for the Huffington Post which shares some personal reflections after returning from implementing #MeWeSyria communications workshops with refugee youth in the Middle East…
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.
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Exhibition and Screenings of MeWe:
HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE ABOUT THE FINAL OUTCOMES OF #MEWESYRIA PROJECT (Includes new videos)
Text from Huffington Post:
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.