IamResilience project leader reflects on the penultimate week of IamResilience, working with women and children in a Syrian refugee camp in South Lebanon, focusing on themes of Ending and Sharing.
The end of the first work cycle of IamResilience- five weeks from 26th May to 27th June- and due to begin again from Monday 28th July for another five weeks. There’s so much to say, and yet, as I sit surrounded by my case notes and archive of photographs and film recordings, I can only feel the tiredness piled from weeks of Go-go-go!
This blogpost isn’t an overview of the work cycle; rather, it attempts to capture a part of my personal and practical reflection over the fourth, and penultimate, week of the first work cycle, where our creative-therapeutic workshops came to an end. The fifth week of the cycle included two site-visits, as we went to receive feedback from participants and organised an ending activity for the children.
I began to remind everyone, children and adults alike, of the end of the cycle, and to prepare myself to listen as deeply as I am able to how this may be received. In the context of working with young children, I did not expect to have verbally articulated responses, but to note how the process of ending is perceived and dealt with, as this can significantly echo the wider experiences of ending in each child’s life. Here, the therapeutic session becomes a sort of microcosm to develop deeper awareness of our behaviour patterns, and to potentially help better manage future transitions, disruptions and beginnings etc.
Unfinished business, relating to endings, takes on a whole new meaning when working with refugees, particularly those still inside a refugee camp, and the therapeutic work in IamResilience has been kept relatively superficial -essentially due to the inadequate available space for in-depth therapeutic work, which I’ve spoken about in an earlier post- I still wanted to prepare the children in particular, for our departure and intended return. This preparation felt especially important as no-one, not even I nor our partner institution at CCECS, seem to have any clues as to what works/ programmes/ initiatives are taking place at the camp and when… any NGO can pass by at any time, and although many are diligent in notifying and registering their presence with the UNHCR, none seem to take it upon themselves to notify the camp residents of their working schedule!
Am I ranting? I think I am.
Initially, both children and adults immediately moved to the future, asking when I will be back, and were more curious to hear of my plans for this break, rather than acknowledge the break of our time together. This isn’t good or bad per say. It is important to note as the process of noting helps develop our awareness of our process, and better places us to potentially work towards change.
When the eldest group asked where I come from and where I might be on my break, and in attempting to respond, I realised how limited the group’s conception of the world was; these 10-12 year olds only knew of their home in the rural landscape nearest to Homs, Syria, and the camp in a rural region of South Lebanon. For the next three sessions, for no longer than 15minutes, we had basic glimpses into world geography, focusing on where we are right now.
There was surprise at how small Lebanon is, and how much water there is in the world, and at how far away the US is in relation to the Middle East. I noted the children’s regional and rural orientation, where in most cases, they did not quite comprehend that Damascus or Aleppo, for example, were part of their familiar ‘Syria’, asking me to look for the mountains and the greener landscape, or at least the more familiar landmarks like ‘Jami3 Seedi-Khalid’/Khalid Ibn Walid mosque or the great fort/ Krak des Chevaliers…
This last week was particularly ungrounded, generally in the camp, and also in our creative-therapeutic sessions. The children regressed into their older selves, unable to focus at given tasks for any length of time, more fights and tears in the sessions than the previous week, and generally, a wave of the chaos we first tasted in week one and two of the project. Underneath all of this, and from individual responses, this could easily be a response to endings, namely, with the end of something they have grown used-to.
‘The children will miss you’, was the most common statement we heard from most of the adults at the camp.
There is always a group of children on the look-out when we arrive, every morning between 9:15- 9:30, and as soon as we catch sight of one another, a call is made and within minutes, our car is surrounded by kiddies. We are no longer flooded, as our presence is more regular, predictable, and even routine. We greet each child, share any particular plans for the day; ask what has been happening, as sometimes a particularly exciting activity might have taken place with another NGO, or some unfortunate incident had taken place, and so this is the time to check-in en mass with the residents.
Again, I digress, possibly with a touch of deflection…
‘You didn’t need to remind them we are leaving’, said our Wednesday volunteer, Hana, ‘They wouldn’t be so riled-up if we had just mentioned our going on the day we are leaving…’
I explained the theory behind the (process-led) method, and then emphasised, unlike teaching a class, or running an art or drama workshop, our priority is the group process over any other activity. If out of our 40-minute session, 30 minutes are spent working on the how of a fight that took place, to unpack and better understand ourselves in relation, then that’s the work. It isn’t about the number of exercises, or sticking to a Plan of Action per say.
A collaborative approach has been something we have consistently worked on with all groups, which includes sharing of attention, for example, taking pleasure in seeing another’s joy and success at a task, listening to one other, as well as the tangible sharing of materials, like colouring pens or sitting-mats.
For our final week, I invited the group to take part in a Communal Collage, which all three groups of 45-50 children would take part in making from start to finish. The intention was to use this process as a platform for working collaboratively, be this to share scissors or to trust that another person may cut-out your drawing, and yet another, will stick it onto the large cardboard sheet… this is a lot easier to write here than to implement in reality, and yet, the process proved incredibly fruitful.
Each child made a self-portrait, and all were invited to draw elements of a familiar landscape, from sheep to birds and clouds, and one class began with cutting of coloured cardboard to make a sky and earth, whilst another drew a basic background to act as base to the overall collage. Even the youngest group, from two years old, drew little birds and flowers, which I did my best to squeeze into the final piece.
Most worked very hard to share, a few resisted altogether, and some found compromises. One girl, for example, did not want to share her self-portrait cut-outs in the final collage- unconvinced that these will return to her in the final collage, or possibly worried her drawings will be lost in the overall picture- she still shared landscape elements, like flowers and trees, which she carefully inscribed her name on each piece of drawing. This where she is at this stage, which was good to acknowledge and respect.
Her need to trust in herself and others, I know believe, is central to sharing and working collaboratively. With this insight, I feel moved and grateful to have had the majority’s trust in taking a new and challenging journey together.
I weaved in and out of this blog post, and as you can imagine, after five weeks of intense work, there is a lot more I can ramble on about.
Will be posting another blogpost with our ending activity and an overview of the feedback from week 5.
Right now, we’re writing a proposal for the second work cycle, to raise funds for materials, Project Assistants (I cannot continue working alone in sessions!) and hopefully, find a specialist to help asses how IamR is impacting this camp community. The latter is a challenging and important job, which can legitimise this powerful and at times, hippy-sounding work.
Cross fingers, spread the word and loosen purse strings, please!