Oliver in the Middle East, part 1 – Aid Training

DSC01626 copyThis is part one of  a detailed two-part account of Oliver’s latest Reach trip. For a document that gives an overview, click here.

In October of 2013 Oliver was invited to take the Footnotes programme into some of the key countries surrounding Syria. He spoke at several important conferences, presenting the techniques and their benefits to organisations that are working on the ground to help with the humanitarian refugee crisis. The latter part of the trip took Oliver into a variety of rural settings, working directly with those in need.

The first week was spent in Amman, Jordan, where the conferences were held.  This was an amazing opportunity to connect with people who came from an vast array of backgrounds: Kurdish Iraqis, Lebanese project relief organisations, Korean NGOs, multinational peace organisations, people from Alexandra, Cairo, the Northern Nile area, Israel, Gaza and the occupied territories, and Damascus. Some delegates arrived late from Aleppo, held up by fighting; others did not make it at all due to complications with border restrictions. Yet amidst it all, there was a strong sense of unity, as people from all sides of the conflicts lay down their nations agendas to seek peace and humanitarian aid. Indeed, everyone present commented on the power of this atmosphere and was surprised by how much was achieved in that short space of time because of it.

Many of the attendees had been personally affected by displacement and war, seeing things that no one would ever wish to consider. One community leader came from Aleppo, where snipers were deliberately shooting children in the street simply to demoralise the community. He was trained and he returned, to bring what help he could to people for whom he was their only hope. The bravery demonstrated by so many was an inspiration and the opportunity to bring something that could be of benefit was incredibly humbling.

The central purpose of this time was to equip those who were positioned in places of influence with as many tools as possible to bring hope, support and change. It was knowledge transfer to professionals who are overwhelmed by circumstances they’ve never Fruit machines faced before. They covered topics such as disaster relief, reconciliation training, raising hope and aspirations, public health issues, micro finance loan generation and entrepreneurial support.

Into this mix Footnotes offered a tool that works very effectively in planning disaster relief, taking a non-linear, multilayered approach to needs assessment by using the grid format. This also simultaneously empowers the people who are involved in the process to realise what they can offer and take on roles that meet the identified needs. As Oliver shared the programme and helped delegates to use the system, what came back to him was an enhanced and developed understanding of uses for the grid. New ideas and contexts were added to the ever-growing portfolio of Footnotes modules. Two examples of this were a bereavement grid and a dealing with violence grid, helping victims and witnesses to understand and communicate their emotions.

DSC01638 copyBy coincidence, Oliver was staying close to a boys orphanage that housed around 250 refugees, representing many nationalities. It wasn’t on the schedule but he managed to get the opportunity to visit whilst he was in Amman, and work with a class of the children. He demonstrated to a number of teachers just what could be achieved with the grid and a bit of encouragement, being offered only very basic translation to run the session. It was an opportunity to see just how non-verbal the Footnotes technique is, as with next-to-no language understanding they were able to fully grasp the tool and use it in a very powerful way. His first observation was of how long it took the boys to begin to engage with the activity, not through lack of understanding but rather an apparent reticence to commit pictures to a page. It was the longest time he’d seen young people take to connect with the workshop, but once they felt safe they created many images and ideas, much faster than he was used to seeing in a group of that size. They were drawing grids of hopes and dreams, eager to keep sharing what they had been feeling inside but until then lacked the words and a forum to express themselves.

DSC01640 copyThe next day, five of the boys accompanied Oliver to the conference and he began his presentation by introducing them. The children then proceeded to share their grids with these key leaders from across the Middle East and the rest of the world, telling them the ideas they’d had as to what their organisations should be doing to help refugees. What they would be doing if only they could. They would give water, food and medication, of course. One also drew a hand reaching out to hold the hand of another child and comforting them; and in each of the fives hopes and dreams grids they drew about giving their lives to help other children not be in the same situation they themselves were in.

After the conference, visits were made to various refugee camps. Some had been there since 1948, with residents still hoping and waiting for an opportunity to move into a home after all that time. Some tents had the beginnings of basic buildings alongside them. The families purchase concrete blocks one by one as income allows, and slowly lay down their dream one piece at a time. There are places too where hopes are being realised, one house in the desert with whitewashed walls and shady olive trees hosts training programmes that help women to set up micro financed self-employed businesses, teaching them to sew and make jewellery.

For the next instalment of the journey read part two, which sees Oliver crossing the border into other nations to bring Footnotes support into rural community settings…

P.S. If you would like to offer financial backing to this work, then that is very much appreciated. You can find out more about that here.

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