A dance

Project leader, Tara Jaffar, shares the latest from IamResilience pilot project working creatively and therapeutically with children and women living in a Syrian refugee camp in South Lebanon.

This week has seen the IamResience project work settle into mini-routines and rituals, as workers and camp residents alike have grown more accustomed to one another, and we continue to find ways of working with one another.

The children know which sessions they belong to, gathering into groups of three with relative ease: the two original groups of 7-9 and 10-12 years, and we have also incorporated the younger children, from 6 down to the youngest toddlers, in a session that echoes some of the sensory and perceptual awareness work we are doing with the older children.

So IamResilience is now working with all children living in the camp, some 40 kiddies per visit!

Looser version of the two main workshops, to include all those we were unable to initially work with.

Gestalt therapist Violet Oaklander, describes her way of working with children as a dance, where sometimes she leads and other times, the child leads. The bit of structure we’ve built has helped this. The space, physically unchanged, has had a subtle transformation; hardly any stone throwing, less fights break-out during the sessions and there have been moments of silence, during a movement exercise or a focused drawing exercise.  Blissful!

The loud, grating voices have also, generally, been softened, particularly during the sessions. I’ve particularly noticed this with a few of the loudest individuals, for example, 11 year old Wa’ad, who didn’t speak, she shouted, and the more excited/ angry/ worried/ desperate she felt, the louder she got. After our regular post-sessions walk- up the dirt road and back- Wa’ad asked me a question, and I was shocked; the same face, with searching eyes, and now, a soft and clear voice. I named and shared this change with her, and again, with the group in the session the next day. I later asked if she’d noticed the change, and like most of the children I’ve experienced, Wa’ad received the positive comment with a shy smile, as if she didn’t quite know what to do with this kind of information.

As the children are not in school- some have never been in schooling- and have expressed interest in literacy and life skills, we have included these into somewhat more classroom-style sessions, co-facilitated by our volunteer, Hana. IamR’s process-led approach has allowed this. After bringing-in a big clock to the session last Tuesday, for example, to help clarify when our sessions begin and end, I realised that reading the time is not something most of the kids were familiar with. In the next day’s session, we made time to learn to read the time, and now, I am reminded of how much time we have, or more often, the children themselves attempt to manage one another with ‘don’t waste time, we only have 10 minutes left!’

Teaching the children to read the time, as well as better manage our time in the session, has become part of the process.

Drawing continues to be the children’s favourite activity, and this week, all the children had a chance to draw their self-portraits, in any way they wanted. I ask each child to tell me about their drawing, encouraging them to own their projections. Nine year old Hakam: ‘this is me, and I am standing outside our house, with Raghad [a friend she met at the camp] and we are about to play in the garden’ etc. ‘To empower the self, one must know the self’ (Violet Oaklander in Hidden Treasure). These self-statements can help strengthen the child’s inner self, tapping into her own individuality and experience. Often these expressions are metaphorical representations of her life. When she can own aspects of these projections, she is making a statement about herself and her process in life. Her awareness of herself and her boundaries intensifies. In describing the drawing to me and to the group, and as I listen carefully, she feels heard and respected.

Thursday is our drawing day, and this group in particular, have proved incredibly focused with some detailed and highly imaginative artwork.

Mohammed at work, drawing his imaginary self-portrait as sheep herder at his rural home near Homs, Syria


Hakam’s drawing      Mohammed’s drawing

We have also had some improvised storytelling, in pairs and in groups, which involves listening to one another and creating something together as a group. My style becomes quite directional here, to encourage those not speaking/ improvising to listen, as this is still something we are working on.


Being in touch with my own feelings is a vital part of my work, as this can help the client get in touch with theirs. These feelings are indications of my humanity, which extends beyond the role I am currently under. This week, I have felt sheer joy, sitting with some twenty toddlers clapping with our feet in the air, or witnessing an 8 year Old’s first journey into writing. And I have felt immense sadness too- though not pity- and I intend to be as authentic and honest with those I work with, and within reason, share with them where I am in this process.

During our women’s group last Wednesday, I mentioned what one of them had expressed her detestation for the word ‘refugee’: ‘I did not want to register as a refugee until the very last moment, until my children grew hungry and we needed the hand-outs’. Others shared similar feelings and experiences. A young mother, smiling as she clutched her two year old son, said:

‘I see my son sitting beside our tent, with snot coming down his nose, wearing his slippers the wrong way round and I think ‘refugee’. That’s what the word means to me. That’s why I hate it.’

I felt deep sadness and was aware that my eyes were about to water. I stayed with the sadness and shared: ‘I feel very sad when you say this’. The woman pointed at me and laughed: ‘look, she’s about to cry!’ I didn’t move- I had my hand on my heart and stayed with the sadness and held eye contact with the woman. She laughed until she buried her head in her young child and wept. We sat in silence for a few moments.

In attempting to draw out the more resilient qualities of the group, I have been exploring Appreciative Inquiry, and with my therapeutic supervisor, we are designing a specific exercise to help these women better tune into the resilience so clearly evident to those of us who come into contact with them.

Women gather to learn to make ornate shapes, which can be sold to high-end confectionary shops as handmade chocolate decorations.

The crochet and knitting workshops, on Thursdays, continue to be a source of pleasure, as women gather early in the mornings, awaiting Renda’s instruction. The women chat as they work, and Renda shares some of the stories and insights that come out of their gatherings. I only wish I could join, but alas, I’m usually busy in our half-build ‘workshop space’ doing some sort of feet-clapping with the little ones!