Tara write on why and how Meryna came into being, and why it's different!
I can’t say that setting-up Meryna has not been a lifetime dream. I worked freelance for different organisations, on projects that relate to most of Meryna’s Guiding Objectives, with no ambitions to set-up an organisation of any kind. I’m not a natural leader (whatever that might mean!), coordinator or even, administrator- there’s a drama every year with my own dreaded Tax Return form, which I blame on a mixture of innate dreaminess and certified Dyslexia- so why wade through the bureaucratic web, to give birth to yet another charity, another NGO?
Whether as a workshop participant or facilitator, I’ve struggled with community-based projects, as these either involved my declaring publicly a faith I generally hold private, for example, within an interfaith context; Or the other tendency of excluding integral parts of my identity, which are potentially relevant to engendering authentic and meaningful dialogue, because I didn’t want to be different and risk excluding myself from a group. I’d like to think that everyone has many different parts of themselves, different aspects of their life, which may or may not be relevant to them at any particular situation. Identity is a continual process, and when explored in a safe space with others, can also be an integrative tool to connect different people. I wanted to explore ways of meeting, connecting and potentially developing a sense of community in the process- the role of communities has been shown to have major implications on individual and a group’s wellbeing- to have a community able to thrive with differences and manage change, be this internally or externally (Meryna’s ‘resilience’).
So for the UK strand, and with a team of people also keen to discover what this means in practise, we’re developing Meryna as an organisation that does not focus on a particular culture, nor faith, and yet to potentially address both, as part of exploring identity and belonging; to mix the creative arts with therapy, to various degree, to help the process of dialogue.
The impetus to finally initiate Meryna came earlier this year, when I visited Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, with the intention of running therapeutic workshops with kids there, as I had done in 2013 in Basra, Iraq. The camp visit was organised by Rabih, who works at CCECS at AUB, and his soon-to-be wife, Leila, strongly advised me to set-up a Non-Government Organisation, which would make partnering-up with bigger organisations and receiving funding easier etc. et voila, with a rather pragmatic final push, Meryna was born!
Yet there’s no shortage of idealism here. Meryna’s idea of ‘charity’ is different to the traditional sense of helping the helpless. Instead, we want to learn from everyone we work with, be this ordinary people engaging in dialogue through our UK workshops, or the young people taking part in our therapy initiatives in the Middle East. Particularly from the latter, I’ve found the most vital part of our work is to recognise the resilience of these young survivors, which they are then able to recognise in themselves. Meryna creates meeting-points, windows of connections, and the learning, awareness and healing comes mutually from both parties involved.
In less than 10 days, I’ll be heading back to the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, for some three months, to run a pilot therapeutic project for children and young women; IamResilience. The name refers to the psychotherapeutic concept relating to those who survive traumatic events, as potentially developing a form of resilience, which could be understood as forms of stability, agility, flexibility and/ or transformation. I particularly draw on the work of Renos Papadopoulos with displaced peoples, which goes further to explore positive responses to trauma, as Adversity-Activated Development, and the Gestaltist Violet Oaklander and her creative-therapeutic work with children and adolescents.
Now that we’re out and proud, I am very excited for Meryna and all this potential.
We’re still at the beginning, and need all the help we can get along the way… so watch this space for more of Meryna, help spread the word of our existence, offer your support, or just get in touch to learn more!