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Safe spaces

"Postcards of Hope" from Syrian refugees

By Kete Shabani

Northern Jordan—“You have listened to me, more than my own sisters ever have,” says Duaa while sharing her moving story. She is one of some 70 Syrian refugees who took part in a series of art therapy workshops in three Jordanian cities and Zaatari camp. The workshops were organized by the International Rescue Committee, with support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), to create an opportunity for war-stricken Syrians to deal with their trauma, express their feelings, and reconnect with their hopes and wishes for the future.

For Duaa, these workshops have provided a much-needed break from her daily life. Only 24 years old, she has been married twice, the first when she was 13 years. Divorced a few years later, Duaa remarried but lost her second husband in the Syria war. She has an 11-year-old daughter from her first marriage and two boys, ages 5 and 3, from her second.

“I do not like to talk much about my life,” Duaa says. “War has made everything worse. But the workshop helped me express my thoughts and feelings.” For her “postcard of hope,” she drew a heart, half in red, half in black. “The black symbolises the hardships of my life, the red the hope I still have for the future. Talking to other participants in this workshop, and being able to share my story, finally makes me feel like the hope within me has started growing again.”

The workshops were designed to provide a safe space for women, teenagers and children to talk about their experiences and begin to imagine their potential. Participants engaged in storytelling—a way to put their experiences into words and work through the trauma—and discussed their lives before the war and the difficulties they face as displaced persons. They exchanged the methods they use to decrease stress levels. On the last day of the workshops, they chose a medium—clay, wire, pictures, paper, paint—through which they presented their messages, dreams and hopes.

Although still not widespread as a tool for mental health recovery, art can be a powerful way of initiating a healing process during times of crisis. Art can help refugees express their thoughts, overcome stress and trauma, and discover different aspects of their personalities.

“I felt safe to share my feelings and it gave me the hope that there is someone listening to our emotions and struggles, someone who cares,” says 55-year-old Amal, a refugee from south Damascus now living in Irbid, one of the cities where the workshops took place (the others were Ramtha and Mafraq).

Raya, a mother of four who fled from Dara’a, adds that the workshops helped her dare to dream once again. “One should never give up hope,” she says. “I hold on to any bits of hope because I do not want to fall. Even if I do fall, I must stand up on my feet again in order to support and protect my kids.”

To see more photos and videos of the postcards made by Syrian refugees, or to find out which ones are available as e-greeting cards, please visit www.hopepostcards.org

Kete Shabani the IRC’s senior communications and information manager in Jordan