Baby steps…

Tara Jaffar gives an overview of the second week on IamResilience pilot project, working with children and women in a Syrian refugee camp in South Lebanon.

Last week saw our first set of workshops for IamResilience, and the word I opened by first day’s notes with was: chaos!

The main issue we have contended with at the camp has been the lack of a sufficient space to run the creative-therapeutic sessions in. We are working on the second floor of a semi-built house, in a ‘room’ with no doors or windows. On two occasions, there was a child- angry at not being included in the sessions- who proceeded to throw stones into the room. The children in the session reacted quickly, throwing the stones back out of the window. This continued, until the children in the workshop agreed not to strike back. In no time though, Amna, a 15 year old camp resident helping out at the session, was struck by a stone and was visibly hurt. I was also struck, and was angry at the helplessness of the situation.

The space was not only psychotherapeutically unsafe; it was physically, literally, unsafe.

We took the second session to the room next door, this time, the room was large, with desks, two doorways (no doors again) and two large window areas (again, no windows). The children were uncontained and ran around, in and out of the space throughout the session. Moments of focus would be followed by unleashed energy.

Rhythmic exercise of Gestalt therapist Violet Oaklander, as taught to me by Jon Blend.

Rhythmic exercise of Gestalt therapist Violet Oaklander, as taught to me by Jon Blend

 

On the spot running to utilise the aggressive energy at play. Violet encourages therapists to use this energy, and speaks of how fruitful it can be therapeutically.

On the spot running to utilise the aggressive energy at play. Violet encourages therapists to use this energy, and speaks of how fruitful it can be therapeutically.

This last week was my time to acclimatise to the campsite and the community I am working with. I had planned very simple awareness exercises, with the intention of minimal ‘doing’ and more listening, trying to ‘sense everybody’s pulse’, as was the advice I’d received from Professor Renos Papadopoulos. I struggled between wanting to contain the children, as a teacher or parent might, and the Gestalt therapist approach to ‘respecting the child’s resistances, as it has good reason for being there’ (Violet Oaklander) and to simply stay curious by what is happening in group process.

Yet I’m finding group facilitation difficult with the children. I experience constant aggression in the camp, manifested in the tones of voice- shouting instead of speaking and a lot of screaming- constantly breaking into fights, inside the sessions and outside. I’ve witnessed a similar dynamic from working with children in Basra’s ‘dump yards’ last year, though paired with the problematic space, this energy is proving difficult to work with. I appreciate this external hardiness is shielding an incredibly vulnerable child.

There’s been no aggression towards me, or our volunteer assistants, Hussein and Hana. Also, our partners at CCECS, AUB, chose this camp specifically as they found it to be the friendliest in the area. So I trust this is largely my own acclimatisation to the environment.

Witnessing aid workers in this camp-most working regularly over the last year- the shouty-ness seems to be matched in the volume and tone. Instructions are barked at the children, to do this and that, or a call-and-reply that consists of a worker shouting a sound and the children shouting back louder still!

The women speak of their anxieties, which I tasted when working in the camp in a strange parallel process.

The women speak of their anxieties, which I tasted when working in the camp in a strange parallel process.

We also ran a women’s group on Wednesday, with IamR volunteer Hana, where I had a chance to listen to what life was like before their arrival into the camp and what it is like to live in what essentially is a campsite. My experiences at the camp seem to be paralleled, be this a diluted fraction, to that of these women: lack of space- emotionally, physically, mentally- no privacy, no quiet, everyone bunched up living together, confusion, uncertainty, so much to handle in such a confined space…

Yet these women carry such dignity, generosity and a fighting spirit. I am reminded of an article I came across recently, which talks of resilience as a dynamic process, best supported in groups and by the wider community, rather than simply as individual characteristics and traits. This in essence is the intention behind this group.

I invited the group to try a few minutes of meditation. There were giggles as we did some Sufi-come-Kundalini-yoga stretches with mindful breathing. We stopped when a group of children ran into the tent to climb over their mothers. These few minutes of peace was reflected on, as most said they felt relaxed and physically less tense. Would they be interested in more next Wednesday? We had a resounding yes.

Thursday, whilst I was in the sessions with the children, Renda (the mother of our most recent designated driver, Ibrahim) offered to run a crochet workshop for the women. The idea came from the women, as they said they would like to learn sewing, something useful they may earn a living from and also keep busy doing at the camp. All the women who were present in the camp at the time, some twelve, joined in the workshop. The rest had found work on a local farmland. We plan to repeat this workshop again next week.

Towards the end of the week, during an art therapy drawing exercise, we had moments of focus with the children, listening to a recording of ‘Ocean Waves for Dreaming and Sleeping’. First time there’s enough space for my own insights to land during the session. The children told me about their drawings, whist some listened and others continued to work. There is hope yet!

We still had to change space after the session, as stones came flying through the window for the second time that week. Baby steps…

Playing with all the children at the end of the two therapeutic workshops.

Playing with all the children at the end of the two therapeutic workshops.