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!

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Ashoka’s Youth Venture | Germany | Questscope 

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