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Because you’re worth it!

Pilot Project IamR's second work cycle; building on the participatory approach, involving communities in developing their social resilience. IamR is a collaboration between Meryna and CCECS, AUB.

Well into our second work cycle of IamResilience Lebanon with creative-therapeutic workshops starting again tomorrow, taking onboard participant feedback (children and parents alike) to build on the work we have already began.

This last week has been preparatory bit and pieces, from fishing more volunteers out (we’ve two and potentially more coming onboard), finding ways to share this pilot project’s experiences with others (talking presentations, publications and training) as well as meeting with our refugee camp community to ready all for the start of the new cycle, as well as physically prepare our therapeutic space (maybe adding materials to cover our door-less room, woohoo!!).

Participatory action

We printed and laminated the children’s family photographs (below), taken of sibling groups by artist-photographer Tarek Moukaddem, and gave these out to the families. The photo’s immediately went up in the tents, and we heard how this was the first time, from out of the countless images taken of the children, they have actually seen and practised a sort of ownership. With Tarek, we’re now devising a way of actively involving both parents and children in how the next series of photo’s are taken, namely, how they would like to be represented. We’d attempted this the first time round, though the invite to dress-up the kiddiewinks wasn’t heard, though now the ideas are coming thick and fast, and its our job to utilise this to strengthen the participants sense of themselves as a community (be this a potentially transient one).

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Family photo’s of siblings taken by artist-photographer Tarek Moukaddem. Printed, laminated and presented to the parents and children as part of Eid.

We also gave out trays of baklava -sickly sweet nut filled filo pastries- a pretty standard gesture for Eid, except that we chose to give both photo’s and sweets to the parents to dispense to their children. This seems simple, and yet in asking the mothers to choose how these are given out, allowed the women to participate in the process, which ultimately gave responsibility (and power) back to the parents in taking charge of their children. I was advised by my own team members to simply give out the sweets directly to the children, though I refused as it seemed inappropriate for us to assume charge of children who’s parents are present and able… even for children who’s parents weren’t present at the time- who may have gone out to the field to work, for example- I asked the child to name one of her mother’s friends in the camp, and asked that woman if she can pass on the tray to the mother. Certainly took a lot more time, especially to write down, with one of the mothers, each family’s name (as represented by the mothers) and to number these, and check and double check before any trays were given out (now, seemingly measly!!).

In fact, I apologetically said to one of the mothers I’ve come to know well through the women’s circle, ‘this is merely symbolic’, and she responded: ‘it isn’t about the sweets, it’s the thought, gesture and effort you have all put in’.

This experience really has instilled the power of actively involving those at the camp in the work.

With the therapeutic work itself, through constantly asking/ receiving feedback, we learn if/how parents experience changes in the children, the effect of the skills-based workshop etc. Meryna doesn’t generally dispense material goods, as the majority of charities do, though as part of this project, we have decided to on occasion; and it’s good to know that we can continue to involve those we work with on this level.

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So we’re back to the creative-therapeutic sessions, and this time, paying particular attention to developing ‘life skills’, such as those from the last cycle: reading the time, basic ‘where we are in the world’ geography knowledge, writing names and revising numbers etc. Both parents and children have stated their desire for/ and interest in the educational element.

For the women, we may have a Lebanese organisation providing a hairdressing trainer for our practical-skills workshops. If, like me, you’re wondering what’s the benefit of this- especially in a conservative environment with all women in headscarves- I cannot actually tell you, beyond the fact that this was the stated desire from an overwhelming number of women in our feedback focus group. At the start of IamR I’d invited them to choose an activity, which only one responded with ‘sewing or such’, and it is only through experience- only half enjoyed crochet and knitting, the other half found it too fiddly!- they are learning that their opinions and desires matter. It isn’t so much about the skills gained, as the fact that they are practising their power of choice.

Am I missing the power of the hairstyling industry? The old L’Oréal  advert with the ‘because you’re worth it’ comes to mind…

Watch this hairy space for updates…