Breathing To Heal: How ‘Art Of Living’ Is Reaching Out To Traumatised Syrian Refugees
The shattered people of Syria, who had lost everything to war, are being healed through the techniques of Art of Living Foundation to become positive, resilient and peace-loving.
He is bound to a wheelchair, took a bullet in his head when he was barely 17, survived two civil wars and many deaths in the family. Yet his spirit is free, soaring high, pulling the body along with all the passion and gusto to reach out to war-worn refugees, who have faced similar trauma in the treacherous terrains of war ravaged Syria.
Youssef Majeed was like every other cheerful teenager, with high expectations from life when the meaningless Middle East war took away his mobility, confining him to a wheelchair for life. But the spirited young man that he is, he took it up as a challenge and life’s mission to free people in his country who had lost everything to war, their future bleak, with nothing but pain on the horizon.
His agenda, to relieve them from their acute psycho-socio trauma and stress, opening up a broader vision of life, teaching them yoga, meditation, breathing techniques to face and accept what life had offered; instead of buckling down and seeking revenge, teach them to see a different dimension of life, which is filled with love and forgiveness.
Majeed is not alone in this mission. Teachers from the Art of Living Foundation, over the last decade and half, have worked in the high risk areas of this region, reaching out to thousands of war survivors and also refugees residing in the multiple refugee camps in the most vulnerable areas of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, their morale shattered, psyche mutilated.
Their aim is to reach out to over 16,000 war survivors, having already extended their hands to over 3,000. These fearless warriors of peace have succeeded in relieving thousands of these war survivors from intense trauma and stress, prevented many from taking up violence as retaliation, and more, from resorting to taking up their own lives in desperation.
The main target group reached out to by the teachers in these highly vulnerable areas are the war ravaged children, young teenagers and youth besides the families and communities as a whole. Besides the Art of Living teachers, the frontline workers include youth and social workers. These workers, after being trained in stress management techniques, self-care and personal resilience, conduct workshops based on the target audience.
War traumatised children are taught resilience and techniques to relieve stress, teenagers are given deep trauma relief and trained in human values to shift the negative inclinations stemming from the various traumatic encounters into positive leanings. While families and communities are healed through meditation, breathing techniques, empowering them in the process, youth are trained to become peace ambassadors, shunning the violence that would otherwise have been the natural fallout of such psycho-socio trauma.
A significant number of the refugees are erstwhile child soldiers; while others have lost their children, some are lone survivors in the family. Typically, the refugee children and war survivors are rent by anger, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, with these translating into substance abuse and domestic violence besides proving to be the most vulnerable segments for recruitment by armed rebels to unleash hatred and violence.
Since December 2016 alone, over 3,000 war affected children as well as frontline workers, caregivers and families have been addressed through various workshops by the Art of Living Foundation through its sister organisation International Association for Human Values (IAHV), in Jordan and Lebanon. The Art of Living programme has also been imparted to hundreds of internally displaced Syrians in Damascus, Tartous and Suweyda, providing them non-violent empowerment.
Amongst the multiple refugee camps where the foundation’s trauma relief work is active is Zaatari, which incidentally is the largest refugee camp in this region. “Participants have not only reported increased resilience, social interaction, positivity and overall well-being but also reduced depression, anxiety, aggression and suicidal tendencies,” says Christian Matta, a trainer with IAHV who has been leading the project in Zaatari.
Matta is part of the IAHV team that is currently implementing the healing and resilience programmes in Al Mafraq, Al Zaatari Camp, Irbid, Al Zarqa, Al Azraq Camp, Karak and Ramtha in Jordan and Beddawi, El Mina and Tripoli in Lebanon. Adding that children and youth are the most vulnerable, Matta says, “what keeps me going is seeing the actual and factual transformation in the hearts and minds of children and youth in such a short time.”
The estimated deaths of this civil war currently stand at over 400,000, with over 5 million refugees languishing across Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Besides, 14 million live in abject poverty within the country, making the civil war in Syria the most serious human rights crisis in the world today.
The Art of Living Foundation has been active in this region since 2003 with its holistic interventions in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Syria besides others. Founder of Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has made several visits to Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon as part of his peace missions and to guide humanitarian work in the region.
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