Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Healing Syrian Refugee Children Through Art

During the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014, Sara Mraish Demeter, ARCK’s Founder and Executive Director traveled to the Zarqa region of Jordan where she conducted a week-long workshop to bring arts education to a group of 40 Syrian refugee children. In addition, Sara worked with Palestinian refugees in Jordan. The morning art workshop integrated reading and writing, storytelling, and painting. The intent was that in turn, expression through art would help refugee children begin the process of healing and rebuilding their lives.

“Each day of the workshop, I learned something new and inspiring,” says Sara. Here are some of her reflections written during the 2014 program, providing an inside glimpse of what the workshop looked and felt like.

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Learn about healing the Syrian refugee children through art and storytelling, with these words from Founder and Executive Director or ARCK, Sara Demeter.

Check out these photographs taken during the project.

Day 1: August 4th, 2014

I drove from Amman to Zarqa, arriving at the center at 9 a.m. As we approached, the Syrian refugee and Jordanian children were waiting outside for us with longing smiles and eyes glistening with hope.They welcomed us with kisses and hugs, and graciously helped us retrieve materials from the car.

The day’s program began with introductions to get to know the students we would be working with over the next week. We went around in a circle and stated our intentions, hopes, and objectives for the program. I was amazed by their readiness and their eagerness to jump right into the swing of things.  

After introductions, we gave each student a name badge and a plastic folder, a notebook, a pencil, sharpener, and eraser. They were overwhelmed with joy. They appreciated the simple items that the everyday student would take for granted.

The first day we just wanted to get familiar with the students. We started with some simple warm-up drawing exercises, getting them comfortable with the new supplies and setting.

Day 2: August 5th, 2014

The next day each student restated their names and shared with us what they wrote in the notebook that they took home. We led the children in a “dancing movement,” an exercise we do in our open circle to create connections and establish a group comfort level.

Then, students participated in a “closed eyes drawing activity.” Each was asked to draw an object with their eyes closed, then draw the same object with their eyes open. In reflection, students noted that when drawing with their eyes closed, you have the freedom to be more imaginative. They didn’t feel a pressure to be perfect, and they were not afraid to make mistakes.

Through this exercise, students gained an understanding of others around them who suffered from disabilities. In fact, one of the students was visually impaired, and his results were astounding. Although without sight, his eyes-closed drawing was significantly better than his drawing with his eyes open. Clearly “sight” is not restricted to what we see physically. One of the students spoke about the experience: “We were able to feel what people who can’t see feel, and let our imagination go beyond our written rules and limitations.”

Day 3: August 6th, 2014

Today students worked on a very important project called the “City of Hope.” They were encouraged to create a blueprint of an ideal city to live in. Students made sure to include houses, buildings, airports, supermarkets, mosques, and all the necessities for a fully functioning city. After each creating their own dream cities we decided as a group on the name: ”Hope City,“ مدينة الأمل.” As a group, we determined appropriate laws and rules to be enforced in “Hope City.”

I watched as everyone worked excitedly with ideas streaming out of their imaginative minds. You could see the happiness in their faces, and how these activities improved their attitudes and livened their spirits.

Day 4:  August 7th, 2014

On this day, we showed the children a movie about Icarus and Daedalus, the Greek myth.  
The movie was entertaining, but also led to thoughtful discussion about topics like self-control. One student reflected: “This story teaches us to be creative and be inventors, but no matter how much power we have, we need to be humble and draw boundaries of dangerous ideas.”

Day 5: Friday (Weekend no class) August 8th, 2014

Through art, the children were able to convey very personal themes that they may have found otherwise difficult to find in words. All week, they have worked on creating a storybook, called “Storytelling Through Art.” This therapeutic activity improved students’ self-development and personal expression. Check out the storybook here.

Day 6: August 9th, 2014

The final day! Today was a celebration where we danced and ate traditional Kabseh rice and chicken with yogurt. We expressed our sincere farewells to the new friends we met. It was incredible to see how these workshops healed the children's’ souls. I will cherish the memory of watching these children heal and reconnect with their dreams through the beauty of art.

And this story continues:

July, 2016: The values I learned while working with the students in Zarqa stay with me to this day across the world in my city, Boston, Massachusetts. ARCK is working to develop of our future leaders in Boston and around the world. For example, our  “I AM, WE ARE” project, a student-collaborated mural that now is displayed as public art near Fenway Park, is similar in many ways to our Zarqa work. The self-discovery the Syrian refugee children achieved through art echoes the exploration and discovery I witnessed with the Gardner Pilot Academy students who made the mural in Boston.

No child should be deprived of the amazing potential of art; it truly has the ability to transform a soul emotionally, cognitively, and socially.

Special Thanks: I would like to express my thanks to my sister Manal Mraish for being a co-leader on the refugee  project, and Nadia Bushnaq the founder of the Center for Awareness for allowing us to hold our workshops there.  I also want to thank the staff: Khaula and Lena, and mentors Abdelrahman, Mohammed, Mohammed Haymmour, Mohammed Aljbour, Mona, and Hamzeh.

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