Mindfulness Training for Syrian Refugee Aid Workers
By Hugh Byrne
Twenty-five humanitarian aid workers sat with their eyes closed, bringing a kind awareness to their breath, body, emotions, and thoughts at a hotel by the Dead Sea in Jordan. Learning to bring greater awareness, balance and connection to our life and work is hard enough for any of us, but how much more challenging for a group learning these skills just 350 miles from Aleppo.
They had recently arrived from the frontlines of the Syrian refugee crisis—Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and centers in Jordan—to take part in a contemplative-based resilience (CBR) training for aid workers.
The responsibilities of aid workers in the Syrian crisis are extensive and challenging, including providing medical treatment to those injured, delivering food and shelter to displaced people and those in need, providing legal support, and ensuring that donor funds are spent responsibly and accounted for. They do all of this while being targets themselves, as evidenced by the horrific aerial bombing attack on a UN aid convoy in Syria in mid-September that killed twenty aid workers unloading food at a warehouse.
About two-thirds of participants in the training were from Middle East nations and working in the region, and Arabic was their first language; the other third were from Europe or North America and working in the region. Over four days they explored practices of meditation, mindful movement, and ways of understanding and responding to stress that might provide them with valuable tools when they go back into their humanitarian roles.