June 20th is World Refugee Day. With 65.6 million people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide, we felt compelled to shed some light. The following is a first-hand account from Social Entrepreneur and Founder of The Amal Alliance, Danielle De La Fuente, on why she chose to dedicate her life to helping children displaced through conflict.
As I was sitting at a conference at the UN last year, I was horrified to learn that over 50 million children had been forcibly displaced by conflict.
Even as a child, I dreamt of one day working as a diplomat. I started my career at embassies, and fostering relations and strategic dialogue between representatives of various US government agencies, high ranking foreign dignitaries, diplomats, academics, and military participants from 32 countries spanning across the Middle East and South Asia. Fascinating to say the least, but I longed for something deeper and rooted in compassion.
After I completed my masters in Peace and Conflict studies, I zoned in on the role memory plays on the next generation of conflict. It was so shocking to see how critical addressing the psycho-social remnants of trauma was to achieving lasting peace with minimal recurrence of violence.
Yet most of the 50 million children mentioned at the UN conference spend their entire childhood in limbo, with an average of 11-17 years displaced and living in refugee camps. What’s worse, they go through this period with minimal to no access to an education, or recreational activities that could help cope with the affects of trauma.
What will happen to all these invisible children? Will they grow to be unemployable adults? Was it not evident that these children would be left highly susceptible to all sorts of security risks like sexual abuse, human trafficking, harvesting of organs, or recruitment by terrorist organizations?
Bags packed and passport in hand, I set off to do my due diligence as a global citizen and see first hand what was happening at these camps. Then, it actually happened. I bore witness to countless of children with no life left in their eyes, only vacant hopeless stares. Repeated survivors of rape, exploitation, and horrors not even unimaginable to most. They sat abandoned with their dreams lost.
I refuse to be part of a world in which children are unable to dream; to be a teacher, an engineer, a singer. Something had to be done. That’s what gave life to the Amal Alliance (Amal = Hope), a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that is dedicated to empowering displaced youth through social development programs at refugee camps and informal settlements around the globe through education and integration programs.
We believe every child has the right to be protected, to learn, to play as a child, and receive the care and services she or he needs to reach their full potential. We began implementing our mission through holistic methods. Children, aged between 3-16, are provided with safe space and programs designed to channel inner strength, address psycho-social needs, facilitate mindfulness, and encourage a positive-team spirited attitude through kids’ yoga, recreational activities, relaxation exercises, play, arts and crafts, and music therapy.
We decided to make yoga a core foundation of our curriculum as it prepares the body to learn through strategic poses and enhances overall mental health so well. We also incorporate breath work and mindfulness through fun games and activities. I’ve found that teaching emotional empowerment is key to helping children heal from the aftermath of trauma. Giving children access to their own inner light and the tools to turn it on does dissolve some of the darkness that surrounds them.
We also use modalities like storytelling, reading circles, and creative writing, to help children find their voice, build resilience, self-confidence, and increase their interpersonal skills and pro-social behavior. The Urban Yoga Foundation were instrumental in the formation of our curriculum for the pilot and the spirit of collaboration and partnership runs deep in all we do.
We also always establish local partnerships in each country we work in to ensure cultural sensitivities and norms are respected and woven through the fabric of our programs. Our safe spaces are open to children of all race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
We also decided not to just focus on refugee children, but include other local under-served children of the host country too. Combining the two groups turned out to be a powerful move- children began to see others as merely other children, not a distinct group that should not be associated with. Doing this has broken all kinds of divisive barriers of intolerance, distrust, and discrimination.
This Summer 2018, we will be launching our pilot program in Thessaloniki, Greece at the Elpida Home. As this humanitarian crisis continues to unfold, we will expand to the areas of greatest need, and already have programs scheduled in Lebanon for Fall 2018. Pending funding, I am hoping we will then set up child-friendly safe spaces in Kenya, Turkey, and Bangladesh.
To measure our progress, we will be conducting detailed pre and post assessments that measure things such as happiness, confidence, critical thinking, decreased stress and anxiety, increased empathy, community engagement, and expression.
My greatest joy so far is showing that this work truly does establish meaningful and trusting relationships, boosts self-esteem and self-assurance, strengthens social and communication skills, creates a sense of happiness and hope. I truly believe that the combination of fostering community integration and good behavior is what rebuilds lives.
I love that The Chosen Club platform brings together a global community of like-minded women around the world: all mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters. And I truly do believe that it’s womens’ compassion that will save the world. We are always in search of creative ways to advocate, raise awareness, and increase funding, we’d love you to come and contribute.
Your skills and support could assist us in bringing-up a new generation where displaced children are provided the hope and necessary skills they need to succeed in life.
Website: www.amalalliance.org, Email: email@example.com