The end of pilot project IamResilience Lebanon sees a number of different activities taking place in the camp to help wrap-up the last few months of work.
Officially, fieldwork for IamResilience Lebanon is now over, and I am preparing to head back to the UK in a few days. Creative-therapeutic workshops finished over a week ago, and last week saw four main activities at the camp, which intended to help wrap-up to prepare the community (and the project team) for the project’s end.
A collaborative effort between Naked Wagon, LoYAC Lebanon, CCECS and Meryna (see previous blog), and led by young community artist, Dima Mabsout of NW, this was a three-day effort with art activities, which culminated in a wall mural. The kids painted pasta shell necklaces, drew to their heart’s content and at times, initiated unplanned face and body painting sessions! Dima, with a team of artist friends and volunteers, also painted a wall mural in the camp, which originally painted by NW themselves summer 2013. When Dima asked, the request from children and moms was to paint the Smurfs on the wall, so now these happy blue characters welcome visitors to the camp. When I went back to the camp this week, the children were happy to show me what they, Dima and volunteers had done, and the mothers shared that they had indeed decided on the Smurfs
Young Lebanese artist/photographer, Tarek Moukaddem, had visited the camp at the end of the first work cycle (see relevant blog) and so this was his second visit. Tarek’s idea behind these photo’s of siblings together was to invite moms to prepare their children for the photo shoot, possibly dress them up, to generally pamper them for an occasion; to swap images of ‘the refugee child’ with a more normative family photo. With the first batch of photo’s I presented to the families last Eid, many mothers complained: ‘You didn’t say it would be proper photo’s like these, next time I want to get them into their best clothes for this!’. Indeed, freshly washed with hair neatly combed down, even the kids themselves were more prepared this second time round, smiling at the camera and generally more relaxed, knowing what was to come.
Not only with Tarek, many of the women asked me to photograph them in their choice of pose- in or near their tents, with their friends in the camp, siblings etc- I printed, laminated and gave these back. Unlike the permission I have from the moms to use images of their kids, I was asked not to publish these photo’s of the women themselves. So sadly, I cannot share here. Seems Tarek’s presence became a catalyst for a new experience of photography with this community; their role moving from passive object, to be photographed with no power over how photo’s are used, to actively choosing how they are represented, and (literally) owning the images themselves.
The idea behind this was to provide tools for independent activities at home. Moms try to keep their children inside the tents, to prevent them from taking part in the many fights and steer them clear of the unforgiving environment of the camp. This not only to protect the children, also to prevent the conflict that bleeds from child to parent; with parents ending up in conflict with neighbours (think, the film Carnage). With little to do in the hot, stuffy tents, the kiddies inevitably make an escape, only to come back crying with cuts and grazes, or worse, accompanied with an angry parent… The gift-packs contain a mix of drawing and writing materials, including colouring pens, modelling clay and mini chalkboards with the same textbook and copybooks we used in our sessions. Under the parents’ supervision, this becomes one way of keeping the chidden occupied with fruitful and fun activities. We had just over 60 packages, which IamR volunteer Hana Nimmer and I labelled under each individual child’s name, then grouped into sibling groups, and as always, under the mother’s name. We focus on moms because I know them most from the women’s sessions, the men are often at work in the day, so moms are left with all child-minding duties. This system is time-consuming, but works well, even when the car arrived looking like Father Christmas’s sleigh!
These pencil cases were another attempt at participatory action: we provided materials for the cases, explained that these would be included in a gift-pack and used to house the colouring pens etc. and the women went to work to make each one of their children a case, choosing the colours and decorating materials accordingly. There was a lot of pride, both from mothers and the children, as the packages were given out, as these were no longer an impersonal donation, but a collaboration with the parents (having name tags on each parcel for every child also played a part in this personalisation).
I’d scheduled two additional site-visits, which were some 10 hours each, to collect feedback, have proper goodbyes (to adults and children alike) and dispense first aid gif-packs to all the families (2 boxes for larger families). Noticing the many cuts and grazes all over the kids’ bodies, and with encouragement from the moms, The first aid kit attends to this, as well as antibiotic lotion for infections, zinc oxide for nappy rash and basic burns and eye drops for kids. Following the system we’ve been following, all were labelled under the moms names, so dispensation was simple, clean and quick.
Last Wednesday, I hosted a small gathering of project team members at home, inviting all volunteers and our partners at CCECS, to meet personally (not everyone has done this, thanks to digital media!), share experiences and deal with any unfinished business before we wrap-up, and give out joint Meryna-CCECS/AUB volunteer certificates.
AISEC, an international youth organisation with a branch in AUB, contacted me to say that a team of volunteers have collected a donation of children’s clothes for Meryna to give out. I had ran a half-day training workshop for these same volunteers, initiated by CCECS and part of Refugee Aid project, some six weeks ago. Tomorrow, I will collected the 10 black bin bags of clothes from AUB, to sort amongst the 18 families (with an average of four children each) and label under the mothers name etc. Volunteer Hana, and our assigned driver, Ibrahim, will give these out next week. So officially, I am done, and unofficially, I’ll be digging through clothes, and others will be continuing the work in my absence.
Meanwhile, Meryna is running Arab Spring-English Autumn, a London-based project led by Sara AlSaraf, which is truly exciting and the first of its kind: an eight-week, London-based project inviting young people (17- 25 years) of Middle Eastern origins to explore themes of identity and belonging. This is not ‘therapy’ per say yet drawing on therapeutic approaches to creating a safe and dialoguic space, it is creative without trying to produce ‘a piece of art’ at the end. At its heart, this is a project engendering dialogue related to integration and community cohesion.We try to create an inclusive and contained space to encourage exploration, understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others, when it is very much needed in the world right now…