Shatha is an Iraqi refugee and member of a minority religious group who fled to Syria in 2010, then to Jordan in 2016. “My family and I have seen everything during those years,” she says. Understandably, she came to Jordan in a very bad shape, crying regularly and losing all hope and belief in humanity. In Jordan, she experienced boredom, and then nervousness and anxiety followed. But luckily she discovered CRP through other women in her community.
Since then, life has changed for Shatha. Participating in CRP’s Mind-Body-Medicine class has helped her fight against her anxiety, and to regain a sense of purpose to life. She says “I feel at home and relaxed here, I have made new friendships, and I know that people will listen to me.”
While details of how or why she fled might be unique, her story is common. Refugees and asylum seekers experience many stressful events from political and religious oppression to war, migration, and resettlement. But for many Westerners, it is very difficult to understand how their trauma affects them.
Before fleeing, refugees may have experienced a loss of property or livelihood, extreme fear, rape, torture, imprisonment, malnutrition, and any kind of physical assault. While fleeing, they are often forced to inflict or witness pain or killing, separated from or lost their family and friends, and experience extremely harsh living conditions Finally, when they arrive to safety, refugees have to adapt to uncertain futures, to new places and languages under uncertain circumstances.
CRP’s Mind-Body-Medicine class gives refugees an opportunity to cope with these traumas. Hesham, a Syrian refugee and one of CRP’s community leaders, completed training in collaboration with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and its expert James Gordon, to teach the class. James is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and a world-renowned professional in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. He gave Hesham important guidelines on how to operate the class.
“It is very important for the refugee communities here in Amman to have a space where they can relax and heal from their suffering. Even though it can be difficult at times to hear their stories, it is also very rewarding to see their evolution,” Hesham says.
The class includes both practical and theoretical knowledge of how the mind and body work. From breathing, movement, and meditation exercises, to biological underpinnings of the nervous system, it provides refugees with wide-ranging tools to deal with their trauma.
Beginning with self-reflective activities, such as drawing self-portraits and group discussions, it gives refugees an important platform upon which to build their healing. In order to help them overcome the issues, it highlights their their current troubles while tackling their roots in the past. Sharing these issues with other community members and really targeting them allows our participants to challenge them, and to develop a positive mindset—one that does not focus on the undesirable.
“Before I couldn’t sleep at night, I kept overthinking, the Mind-Body-Medicine class has permitted me to feel at ease with myself,” says Ghassan, a refugee who fled from Iraq in 2015 under threats from Daesh (the so-called Islamic state).
Many of the refugees that have participated in this class have claimed similar effects on their personality and well-being. CRP’s class on the mind and body has been a success, giving refugees a base upon which they can talk and heal from their traumas. Calming their mind, relaxing their body, the class was an important asset for refugees like Ghassan and Shatha in their experience as refugees in Amman. It has given an impetus for further sessions, and many are waiting for the next one to begin!