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#WorldRefugeeDay Reflection and Arts Retrospective by founder and CEO of #MeWeIntl Mohsin Mohi Ud Din
We remain humbled and grateful to get to do the work we do in times like these, where the fabric of humanity — how we communicate and why — is being weaponized, threatened, and redefined.
After February 2020, everything as we knew it changed forever, for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our organization; how we typically perform; and how we plan. Most importantly, the pandemic exacerbates inequality and the safety of the communities we serve from the Middle East to the Americas.
Our North Star remains the brothers and sisters we serve and co-create. Why? Be it the refugee mother from Syria, or the youth activist in Honduras, all of them have been navigating threats to health, lack of mobility, threats to life, and trauma before COVID-19. These communities possess leadership, perspectives, and creative capital that can inform and empower the billions of people across the world struggling to deal with the disruptions and fear the pandemic has unleashed in our world today.
As an organization, #MeWeIntl made an intention to move slowly through our world of uncertainty, and not react out of fear. Since April 2020, we have restructured our budget to keep us moving through March 2021. Programmatically, we have pivoted from our in-person community engagements, to virtual and mobile phone program delivery across all locations globally. Logistically, we have even been buying phone cards and mobile services for some of our community facilitators and participants so that technology and poverty do not persist as barriers to engagement. We also went through a process of reevaluating our community partnerships by identifying strengths, and correcting weaknesses where possible, in close collaboration with our community allies. We are accelerating moving programs like #MeWeSyria to open-sourced models, and are transitioning out of some local sub-grant and implementation partnerships which have run their course in Turkey and Lebanon. In many ways, the pandemic and global disruptions forced us, #MeWeIntl, to be still and thoughtful, while at the same time challenging us to accelerate our original plans of program innovation and transitions to community ownership of #MeWeIntl tools and programming.
We’ve had tough choices to make. Still do in fact. At times we had to ask ourselves whether we keep fighting, or do we stop all together? Despite the uncertainty and global shutdowns, #MeWeIntl and its community partners have successfully completed subgrants and community interventions with more than 10 local partners and #MeWeIntl implementers across Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Germany, Mexico, Honduras and the United States, from February -September 2020. Grants to #MeWeIntl successfully closed with Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, Community Arts Labs, and Mercy Corps Jordan between March and August. For these trainings and community actions, more than 50 community trainers activated by #MeWeIntl transferred #MeWeSyria, #MeWeMexico, and #MeWeHonduras and other programs to more than 1400 youth and caregivers from vulnerable communities.
As we head into September with no end to the pandemic in sight, we are ready to launch new phases of #MeWeSyria in Turkey and Jordan, and #MeWeMexico and #MeWeHonduras in Mexico and Honduras. We are also initiating a new program, #MeWeDC, with detained and incarcerated youth in Washington D.C.
Some critical questions remain: How can we measure the impacts and effectiveness of our virtual program delivery? What happens if the pandemic passes and in-person programming can resume? What risks exist and should be mitigated if virtual and digital interventions carry on for another year? How do we maintain local community support to partners in a sustainable way — especially in financially disruptive times under Covid-19?
Lastly, we realized that in times like these, it is necessary to give actions and opportunities for leadership and creative expression to our communities. In the coming months we will publish a series of books, release a short animated film, and post physical billboards in the community — -all featuring the creative capital and perspectives of the underrepresented and vulnerable communities we serve.
In the words of our partner Quiet, “We believe in cultural currency — which increases by giving, and cannot be owned…’.
We stand in solidarity with all our #MeWeIntl family from Jordan to Honduras. I’d like to thank local partners in this family for their trust and continued collaboration: Questscope (Jordan and Germany), DARB (Turkey), Mobaderoon (Lebanon), Women’s Support Association (Turkey), Mercy Corps Jordan, OYE (Honduras), Honduras Social, Tejiendo un Sueño (Mexico), Human Rights Initiative (Texas), DYRS (Washington D.C.), Aga Khan Museum, QUIET, and Community Arts Labs.
Below are some updates for the mountains that have been moved recently.
Mohsin Mohi Ud Din | Founder of #MeWeIntl
● From August 2019 to September 2020–#MeWeIntl has scaled new programs in Mexico (#MeWeMexico), Honduras (#MeWeHonduras), and the United States (Texas, and DC), and expanded to reach more Syrian refugees across Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon for #MeWeSyria. New community partnerships have been secured with OYE, Honduras Social, Tejiendo un Suneo, Human Rights Initiative, and Women’s Support Association. In April 2020, as other grants closed, #MeWeIntl began a new partnership with ally Quiet — an innovative artists collective dedicated to cultural currency and social justice.
● #MeWeIntl has successfully been navigating the pandemic and created digital and virtual programming as of April 2020. Because of this innovation, programs continue across all sites uninterrupted, and in September, the #MeWeIntl team will work with local partners to assess strengths and challenges with pivoting to virtual and digital interventions.
● In a new partnership with Aga Khan Museum activated in July 2020, #MeWeIntl designed and piloted training for more than 4 educators and staff leading a youth summer camp at the Aga Khan Museum. The #MeWeIntl designed virtual program centers around the theme of Sanctuary — a current exhibit at the museum.
● In partnership with an artist group of graphic designers, branding experts, and wordsmiths from the Quiet artists collective, #MeWeIntl cultivated a design process for rebranding to properly demonstrate its brand, mission, and vision including a new logo that will be shared by the end of 2020.
● #MeWeIntl are piloting new exercises, including a live book-writing exercise where underrepresented communities from Iraq, Syria, Mexico, and Honduras are communicating their discoveries, challenges, and ideas for how to emerge from the disruptions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The submissions will be published into a physical and digital book.
● #MeWeIntl has designed and is currently piloting 2 new tools for community leaders and community building organizations; a facilitation skills guidebook and a self-care guidebook co-created with psychologist, Alexandra Chen. The guidebooks are being translated into English, Arabic, and Spanish.
● #MeWeIntl has funded and developed an online platform for #MeWeSyria alumni and facilitators to access current training materials and new trainings materials on #MeWeIntl methodology and exercises. The open-souce digital tools will enable free access to #MeWeIntl facilitation skills, neuro-education and mental health/psychosocial support concepts, and communication skills exercises. The producton, consisting of more than 7 animation videos and several video tutorials, featureS #MeWeSyria community facilitators transferring their leadership and community engagement skills to their peers. The platform will be launched at the end of October, 2020.
● Literature Review and Field Research: In collaboration with Beyond Conflict’ s Neuroscience Lab, #MeWeIntl has funded a literature review of how art therapies and narrative interventions may or may not support mental health and psychosocial support. As part of the new partnership, #MeWeIntl is funding a science informed field research study to measure the impacts of the #MeWeSyria program on refugee youth in Zaatari refugee camp. Depending on the pandemic and travel restrictions, the scientific research and study will take place between September 2020-September 2021 in Zaatari refugee camp, where the #MeWeSyria program has been running since 2015.
● Expanding our core team:
○ April 2020: #MeWeIntl hired a full time Global Program Manager, artist, community programmer, and activist Jacquelin Steinggberg-Di Stefano.
○ April 2020: Hired a full time Consultant Program Manager for #MeWeSyria in Turkey, #MeWeSyria alum Hadi AlTheeb.
○ October, 2020: Hired a Consultant Program Advisor and Manager for #MeWeSyria in Jordan, Alaa Shehada.
○ #MeWeIntl welcomes its new board member, Dillon Clark, who joins researcher Mike Niconchuk and #MeWeIntl founder Mohsin Mohi Ud Din on the Board.
● July 2020: Virtual board meeting completed between current Board Members Michael Niconchuk, Dillon Clark, and Mohsin Mohi Ud Din.
● #MeWeIntl produced 2 short videos with artists Rafe Scoobey-Thal and Wyatt Winborne: a 3 minute methodology animation + a 4 minute overview short film “What is #MeWeIntl?”.
● #MeWeIntl is currently in production of a short animated film featuring the ideas and narratives of 4 #MeWeIntl participants from Syria, Mexico, and Honduras. Each share stories about their perspectives during COVID-19 and of resilience
● #MeWeIntl will soon be publishing its first book that will feature the writings and voices of underrepresented communities from our #MeWeSyria, #MeWeIraq, #MeWeMexico, #MeWeHonduras and #MeWeTexas hubs. The book will be in English, Arabic and Spanish, and will continue to combat the inequality in narratives around Covid-19.
● #MeWeIntl is currently producing a children’s book that will provide parents a tool to teach their kids the #MeWeIntl methodology and the power of words and communication to shape internal and external worlds.
● In August-November 2020: #MeWeIntl is piloting community arts projects with a new partner, the renowned arts and social justice collective ‘For Freedoms’. #MeWeIntl community works will be on display on physical and digital billboards across the country.
#MeWeSyria in Germany
● July/August 2019: #MeWeIntl funded and led a series of #MeWeSyria sessions for more than 10 Syrian refugees. The sessions also included training of trainers work which activated 4 Syrian community trainees to lead their own #MeWeSyria hubs in Berlin between the end of 2019-September 2020.
● #MeWeSyria sessions in Germany were severely disrupted during COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead of abandoning the program however, #MeWeIntl, and its local partner Questscope, piloted virtual engagements. This was somewhat successful, and now #MeWeSyria sessions can be attended by refugees from outside Germany, across Europe. One session invited Syrians from the Netherlands.
● To date, 3 #MeWeSyria hubs — 2 in person and 1 virtual — have been completed and led by 4 local refugee trainees reaching more than 32 Syrian refugees. None of this would have been possible without local volunteers and facilitators Zena and Zozan. #MeWeIntl is currently reassessing programmatic and financial sustainability of the program in Germany.
#MeWeSyria in Jordan
Za’atari refugee camp
● #MeWeIntl designed and led more than 4 trainings of trainers for over 12 Syrian community trainers in Zaatari refugee camp, through our partnership with Questscope. #MeWeIntl’s subgrants to Questscope in Zaatari are funded by the Ford Foundation. 2019–2020 trainings for Syrian refugee trainees focused on self care, facilitation skills, communications as a tool for healing, and video production and interviewing.
● From July 2019 through August 2020–Syrian community trainers outreached and successfully facilitated the #MeWeSyria programs to more than 510 refugee youth in Zaatari refugee camp.
● In early 2020, #MeWeIntl ally, psychologist Alexandra Chen, led a 1.5 day workshop for a group of 10+ Syrian #MeWeSyria facilitators targeting self care and facilitation skills.
● In November 2019, #MeWeIntl brought to Zaatari refugee camp artists and filmmakers Rafe Scoobey-Thal and Wyatt Winborne who led production workshops for Syrian facilitators in the camp. The artists also filmed and produced two short films documenting #MeWeIntl’s work, and built an archive of professionally shot photos of workshops in Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps.
● COVID-19 forced a lockdown in the refugee camp, and a suspension of all program activities. However, #MeWeIntl — in collaboration with Questscope — adapted the program to be led virtually through WhatsApp. Thanks to our brave community trainers already living in the refugee camp, more than 120 participants were reached from June-August 2020.
● A new #MeWeSyria phase is currently being designed with Questscope in Zaatari refugee camp, with an anticipated start date for mid September 2020-March 2021.
Azraq refugee camp April 2019-March 2020
● #MeWeIntl, through a partnership with Mercy Corps Jordan, designed and led more than 3 trainings of trainers to 4 Syrian refugee trainees in Village 5 of Azraq refugee camp.
● The Syrian trainees outreached and bravely led the program to more than 100 refugee youth in the camp from July 2019-January 2020.
● Trainees and alumni organized the first #MeWeSyria community event inside Azraq refugee camp. Over 500 people participated in the event at the end of February, 2020.
● The 1 year pilot was funded by the Trip Advisor Foundation through Mercy Corps Jordan.
● Due to positive feedback and demand from refugees to continue #MeWeSyria in Azraq, Mercy Corps Jordan have invited #MeWeIntl to initiate another 4 month phase from September 2020 -December 2020.
#MeWeSyria in Turkey and Lebanon, February 2019-May 2020
● #MeWeIntl provided subgrants to local community orgs DARB in Turkey and Mobaderoon in Lebanon to scale trainings and expand the reach of #MeWeSyria programs across 8 cities in both countries.
● #MeWeIntl designed, led, and funded more than 6 training of trainers sessions to groups of Syrian refugee Master Facilitators of the #MeWeSyria program. The local #MeWeSyria leaders then trained more than 20 refugee community facilitators across both countries. Trainings included sessions on neuro-education, self-care, and facilitation skills led by #MeWeIntl allies and experts in community programming and facilitation Maureen Jane MacPhail and psychologist Alexandra Chen.
● The passionate and dedicated Syrian facilitation teams across Turkey and Lebanon led the #MeWeSyria programs more than 670 refugee youth and caregivers. More than 70% of participants were girls and women.
● #MeWeIntl also funded and provided 1:1 and group psychological support to Syrian community trainers in both Turkey and Lebanon through partner and ally Alexandra Chen.
● Through local partner DARB, #MeWeIntl designed and funded the production of an open-sourced digital capacity-building tool for refugee community facilitators.
● COVID-19 and regional instability (Pre-pandemic) in Turkey and Lebanon disrupted community programs as national shutdowns took hold from November 2019-May 2020. Despite the instability and challenges, #MeWeSyria trainees from DARB Turkey and Mobaderoon Lebanon successfully led our programs, enhancing the communications skills and wellbeing of more than 600 refugees.
● As of August 2020, #MeWeIntl opened a new partnership with the Women’s Support Association shelter in Kilis, Turkey. #MeWeSyria trainees at the womens shelter are currently leading pilot virtual #MeWeSyria sessions with women and girls over video meetings and mobile phones.
#MeWeHonduras, August 2019-August 2020
● In August 2019, #MeWeIntl led small scale #MeWeHonduras sessions in San Pedro Sula and Progreso, and led a series of community needs assessments with local partners OYE and CASM to learn the impacts of cartel violence, corruption, and migration on youth and caregivers. Knowledge from the sessions supported the program designs for the next phase of the program. Session and field visits were organized by #MeWeHonduras ambassadors from 2018, Absalon, Meg, and Duniya, and ally QUIET brought guests Ezra Miller (actor and artists), and Brittany Packnett Cunigham (activist).
● In December 2019, #MeWeIntl launched 2 new partnerships with local community orgs OYE Honduras in Progreso, and Honduras Social in San Pedro Sula. From February-September 2020, #MeWeIntl has been providing subgrants to both organizations in order to support trainings, community interventions, and community support for the newly re-launched #MeWeHonduras program.
● In February 2020, #MeWeIntl trained 10 new Trainers in a 3 -day training of trainers session. After the training, national shutdowns took place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
● #MeWeIntl worked carefully to adapt the program to be delivered over WHATSAPP and ZOOM. The 10 facilitators of #MeWeHonduras virtually lead 1 hub per team, reaching 50+ participants peer to peer from June-August 2020.
● Facilitators and participants completed “ COVID-19 live writing exercise for book” producing about 20 stories for the upcoming #MeWeIntl book.
#MeWeMexico, August 2019-August 2020
● In August 2019, #MeWeIntl led small scale #MeWeMexico sessions across Tlaxcala and Mexico City to more than 100 community members. #MeWeIntl led a community needs assessment with local partners to plan for the next phase of the program. Thanks to local #MeWeMexico Ambassadors Coral and Ale — #MeWeMexico alum from 2018– #MeWeIntl engaged with migrant shelters and local city mayors.
● In December 2019, #MeWeIntl launched a new partnership with local community organization, Tejiendo un Sueño in Teotihuacan, Mexico. #MeWeIntl has been providing subgrants to the organization in order to support trainings, community interventions, and community support for the newly re-launched #MeWeMexico program.
● In February 2020, #MeWeIntl trained 10 new community trainers in a 3 -day training of trainers session. After the training, national shutdowns took place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
● 10 community trainers in Mexico were activated, and they successfully led 5 new virtual #MeWeMexico hubs, reaching 50+ new participants in their communities.
● Facilitators and participants completed “ “ COVID-19 live writing exercise for book” producing about 25 stories for the book.
#MeWeTexas, March 2020-July 2020
● 1 new #MeWeTexas pilot launched with new partner the Human Rights Initiative.
● #MeWeIntl designed the program to support the communications skills and MHPSS knowledge of families and young people seeking asylum or navigating the impacts of migration.
● Due to COVID-19, the March 2020 in person training for 20+ community members was cancelled for participants in order to protect the vulnerable. However, #MeWeIntl adapted the training and program to be virtual over Zoom.
● 3 youth completed program online + demonstrated enthusiasm and communications skills development.
● Community facilitators from our #MeWeHonduras hubs led cross- cultural sessions over Zoom.
#MeWeDC, September 2019-September 2020
● From September 2019-August 2020, #MeWeIntl met with officials and community leaders from the District of Youth and Rehabilitation Services to explore piloting #MeWeDC for incarcerated youth in Washington D.C.
● In August 2020, #MeWeIntl and DYRS have agreed to initiate #MeWeDC sessions from September 2020-March 2021. The program will engage 26 ‘Title 16’ youth, between 16–21 years old, who are awaiting sentencing.
#MeWeIntl x Aga Khan Museum, July 2020
● In July 2020, #MeWeIntl designed a 1 day training of trainers session for educators and staff at the Aga Khan Museum. The trainees led a six-week children’s camp focused on a current exhibit, “ What is Sanctuary?”, using the #MeWeIntl methodology.
#MeWeIntl x ASHOKA
● In July 2020, #MeWeIntl led 2 sessions with more than 80 STEM youth winners of a General Motors Changemaker competition
● In February 2020, #MeWeIntl led 1 day of programming in Seattle, Washington to support the wellbeing and communications skills of more than 60 young social entrepreneurs and Changemakers, as part of T-Mobile’s National Changemaker Challenge.
#MeWeIntl x QUIET, October 2019
● Ally and creative partner QUIET invited #MeWeIntl founder Mohsin Mohi Ud Din to lead a series of exercises for more than 60 renowned artists and acticvists from across the world.