“Balsam Project” was launched in August 2011 by the Arab Women’s Association in Austria.
The project is dedicated to Syrian women and children who are living as refugees in Antakya / Kilis / Haji Basha in Turkey. In this climate of uncertainty, domestic violence, anxiety, health problems and major safety hazards need to be dealt with on a daily basis.
The objectives of the project are:
- Raise awareness of sectarian violence, non-violent communication and social peace.
- Raise awareness of child and forced marriage, rape and sexual assault, while aiming to prevent children and women from becoming victims in and outside the camps.
- Raise awareness of the dangers of drug use and their impact on society in general and youth in particular.
- Raise awareness of the psychological and moral burdens arising from a prolonged residence in the camp.
- Disseminate a culture of tolerance and mutual acceptance to live together in peace and freedom.
- Establish informal structures to offer medical and psychological care to children in and outside the camps.
- Raise awareness of general family problems, including the violation of human rights in and outside Syria.
- Help children to cope with their war trauma through creative activities (such as painting workshops).
- Provide entertainment for children with music, interactive theater and sports rehabilitation against violence.
- Train volunteers to be able to assist war traumatized refugees.
- Promote health awareness campaigns for women and children.
Project “Balsam 6”
Arab Women’s Association
In cooperation with “Amal Center” and “Kamishlo Haus” (Antakya/Turkey) and School/Orphanage “Inta Amali” (Kilis/Turkey)
- Amal Centre, Antakya/Turkey
- School Amali, Kilis/Turkey
- Beytna Souriya, Gaziantep/Turkey
- Kamishlo Haus, Antakya/Turkey
Duration: 22 March to 1 April 2015
Since the establishment of the “Balsam Project” in August 2011, the project was dependent on the work of Syrian volunteers and Austrians of Syrian origin, and mostly on in-kind donations.
At the end of 2014/beginning of 2015, a number of Austrian activists and from other nationalities joined our group, and we have expanded Balsam workshops, courses and training to prepare assistants especially for the treatment of post-war trauma. At the same time, we began to accept and to collect not only in-kind contributions, but also financial contributions from multiple sources (personal/concerts/churches, etc.).
At the beginning of the fifth year of the civil war in Syria, we have noticed an increase of cruelty against children and women refugees. This does not mean that men are better off, but things got worse for everyone.
The suffering of the Syrian refugees whom we worked with in Turkey varies from one place to another. For example, the situation of the Syrian refugees in Antakya is better compared with the situation in Kilis.
Children are suffering physically and mentally – physically because they lack food, vitamins, space, etc. and mentally because of the violence they experience in their families and the environment around them.
In some schools run by Syrians, the children are forced to learn some fundamental ideologies and not school subjects like mathematics, physics, sports, music, painting etc. In addition, these children are not allowed to make contact between gender and with other children who have different religions. This atmosphere of ZERO tolerance is the most dangerous situation for Syria’s future.
In addition, children have no space or possibility to do any activities. The two places which they are allowed to go to are their homes and their schools which give them the feeling that they are captured or that they are in prison.
Women are suffering mainly from violence in the family, society and work. Women also suffer from marginalization, and they are badly in need to find work or to continue their studies. It was clear that women in Kilis are in big need of institutional centres and campaigns to promote the ideas of social justice, free society and to re-draft all their targets based on the International Human Rights Declaration and not based on religious, sectarian or national concepts.
Despite the limited financial and logistical resources, we managed to achieve all our targets in Balsam 6. Some general remarks are cited below:
- Most of the “Balsam 6” programs, workshops and lectures went smoothly, timely and in an accurate way.
- Some of the “Balsam 6” programs, workshops and lectures were done in very difficult locations, like the trauma training in Kilis which was held in a small, cold house with no chairs and surrounded by different kind of animals (cats, chicken, ducks etc.) and with a very bad smell. Also, the trauma training and other activities for children in Kilis were held in a small room without any windows.
- Trauma course for trainers;
- Trauma workshop for children;
- Lecture against violence for women/men;
- Theater workshop to build self-confidence for children;
- Capoeira workshop to build trust for youth and children;
- Painting workshop;
- Sexual harassment/rape/drugs/tolerance lecture for women;
- Networking with various NGOs in Gaziantep;
- Distribution of medicines (vitamins for children, hygienic bags for women, pain killer medication, etc.);
- Distribution of clothes/shoes/toys;
- For Amal Centre: Kitchen utensils, food and 10 plastic chairs for children.
Maria Kubin and Yasmin Randall
As psychotherapists, we have developed a three-part curriculum for counselors of traumatized people.
- Introduction to the trauma therapy and treatment
- Establishment of a protective and healing relationship
- Strengthening of resources
- Stabilization techniques
The first part of this curriculum was completed with three groups.
The first group consisted of five young men, activists of the Amal Healing Center in Hatay, the second of seven women activists of this center, the third of seven women who work in Kilis in a nursery with Syrian children. We also held individual sessions with each activist.
The aim of the programme is to enable participants to give other people a basic understanding of the consequences of trauma and provide helpful exercises.
Our interpreters were non-professionals who were trained by us on the basis of the article “Lost in Translation- psychotherapy by the use of interpreters”.
The majority of participants were activists of the Damascus Spring. Some were tortured for years in Assad’s prisons or had suffered gunshot wounds. Their families died or disappeared. Their current situation in Turkey is precarious and accompanied by a permanent struggle for existence and human dignity. Many had studied before the war and are now hungry for education and perspectives. Another terrible burden is almost universal domestic violence, especially in Kilis.
The success of these groups has far exceeded our expectations. In particular, the safe, quiet and loving frame led to intense admitting and accepting the exercises. In particular, the learning of abdominal breathing was felt to be very helpful.
The fact that we came from Austria had two effects:
- Our participants were impressed that they had not been forgotten and left alone with their horrible fate.
- They could be open to us, because our families are not traumatised and personally affected by the war.
The difficulty to work partly with a male interpreter could partially be turned into an advantage. With his quiet, peaceful and respectful attitude, he served as a positive example for communication between women and men.
At the end of our stay, the participants held two presentations for other refugees.
This workshop was prepared by Dr. Sonja Kindinger, Yasmin Randall and Maria Kubin with the help of two translators: Marie Therese Kiriaky and Nadier Khalil. It was organized for 3 days in Antakya and attended by 13 trainees at Amal Centre and 3 days in Kilis and was attended by seven trainees. Most of the trainees came from Aleppo, Idlib and Homs and were educated and aged between 20 and 35 years old.
We were, as much as possible, well prepared for such a journey – because flexibility plays an important role in this kind of work – I went with an extremely likeable group to Turkey. In my luggage I brought over a concept for 2×70 minutes traumatic therapeutically-based magic games and stories, with small magic tricks, songs with EMDR elements and two imaginations for children from 6 to 14 years.
Despite my years of experience of working with children, I was not sure that my plans would be a success.
The greater was my joy when I realized how well the concept was adopted by all ages. Wide open eyes and mouths at the magic tricks, cheerful mood in the songs and soft and relaxed children’s faces in the imaginations were my greatest reward for all the effort.
After a short time, I realised that it is important to inform mothers about my work, if I wanted to achieve a certain sustainability of the exercises. The families live in crowded rooms, aggression and violence rule the day. If faced with a vivid, loud singing child, my exercises could cause more damage than help.
So I decided to make a short presentation on trauma and post-traumatic derangements for mothers to explain how important it is that traumatised children have a safe, loving and non-violent home.
I gave three lectures in all, each time I came across a lot of gratitude and understanding among the women. Many have touched my heart and discussed education issues with me. As it became clear how important it would be to include the fathers, we have just decided also to give a lecture to men, and although that lecture was attended by only a small number of men, still it had an effect. The initially negative faces opened with time, some asked questions and, finally, all thanked us.
This workshop and lectures were prepared by Helen Brugat and held by Helen with a team of supporters: Kathrin, Misa, Khaled and Wael. It was organized for 3 days in Antakya at Amal centre, 3 days in Kilis and 1 day at the orphanage of Kilis. These workshops were attended by approximately 100 children, aged between 5 and 13 years old, 50 women and 20 men.
Marie Therese Kiriaky
Due to the need of translators for the trauma therapy and training courses, I volunteered to help our colleagues in the team and I postponed my workshops to the next project “Balsam 7”.
Working with professional psychotherapists gave me a chance to learn how to act as a translator in training sessions. It also made me understand how important it is to give hope to the refugees and let them feel that they are not forgotten or that they are just numbers.
I managed well and was able to do one workshop on the first day in Antakya at the Amal Centre, which gave me an opportunity to observe how open-minded these women were. They were willing to learn and accept new ideas and to discuss issues which are considered a ‘taboo’ subject in the Syrian society, starting with sexual harassment up to social justice, tolerance and accepting different opinions, in an atmosphere full of respect and tolerance.
- I noticed that we were targeting two different groups: trauma for adults and different activities for children and adults including trauma.
- The above remarks lead us to understand the need to split our working groups, each group with a different time table and different program:
- Psychotherapists and doctors, and I suggested Yasmin as organizer for these groups;
- Other different activities remain with me.
Logistically, the whole team will be together (travel, hotel and working places).
Note: Each organizer of these two groups will choose their working teams.
- Need for professional interpreters/translators, which should be organized by Yasmin.
This workshop was prepared by Marie Therese Kiriaky. It was held for 1 day in Antakya at Amal Centre and was attended by 35 women. Most of attendees came from Aleppo, Idlib, Der Ez-zor and Homs, educated and aged between 20 and 60 years old.
Capoeira Workshops: Sports and exercise for refugee kids against the background of psychosocial support
The basic aim of this workshop was to give the children an understanding of the fun of free or rhythmic movement and in making music and thus give them an outlet for their energies to live out.
Capoeira is both dance and martial arts but without the target to inflict damage on the opponent. Rather, the kicks and evasive maneuvers are combined to be a common dance – the game of two. Because of this, the children were shown that there are other ways of dealing with pent-up aggression and they were encouraged for being mutual supportive and considerate by training together.
In the final game after each training one could see that these basic ideas were understood by many of the participating children – they showed a matched game with action and reaction. In addition these games were played in the Roda – the circle of singing and clapping by the rest of the training group – where they were motivated to present to all the others what they had learnt. Therefore the kids were strengthened in their confidence and their trust in their community / peers. This aspect was further treated by various trust exercises with partner during training as well.
Where it was possible, the groups were subdivided into sub-units which were then assigned a movement each, which they should teach the others afterwards. They were photographed and these photos are forwarded in the form of a collage of the supervising centers so that the children could be given both an ending to their training as well as the motivation to continue from there.
This workshop was prepared by Dominique Schnötzinger and held with a team of supporters: Ayhan, Jamal, Wael and Misa. It was organized for 3 days in Antakya at Amal centre, 3 days in Kilis and 1 day at the orphanage of Kilis. These workshops were attended by approximately 100 children, aged between 5 and 13 years old.
I worked as a translator with two psychiatrists. It was really hard work, but at the same time seeing the results in the eyes of the trainees and the smiles on their faces at the end of the day made me forget the hard work.
Trainees were fully cooperative, very excited and waiting for our next project Balsam 7, in order to apply what they have learned.
At “Amal Healing and Advocacy Center” the situation was alright and workers were doing very good jobs. We should keep supporting them as much as we can. In Kilis, children are living in miserable places and conditions. Besides, they are in urgent need of medical help. We should take care of them, they are really smart, active and they are the future of a new Syria.
Women there also in need of a lot of things (work, chances to continue their education, space of freedom, etc.).
Balsam 6 was a successful project and I know for sure that Balsam 7 will even be better, because the whole team worked very seriously and they know now exactly what they should do.
The condition of the Syrians lives is either average, bad or worse.
Large numbers of children have health problems. Most of the men are without work, most of the women miss basic requirements to survive. But I can say that they all share a lack of love, compassion and happiness.
What we have presented to them – despite of its simplicity – was a good job. This was not only my opinion, but the opinion of children which you could see in their eyes and their hands pulling you close and asking you not to leave them.
Mothers also were asking us to stay with their children. One of them mentioned that she has not seen her children as happy as in our presence since four years. She begged us to stay or to return soon.
What the psychologists offered through the training to women, youth and children gave them a thread of hope and will lead them to build trust in themselves, to overcome their plight and to work hand in hand in order to build a better future.
Our athletics team offered sports, theatrical and cultural work which opened children eyes, hands and souls for life. They got rid of the blackness that surrounds them and we believe that their smiles are the way for a better life.
Certainly these few days were not enough, but it was a seed we planted in their hearts. This seed needs always care and protection in order to grow up.
This workshop was prepared by Khaled Mobaeid and held with a team of supporters: Wael and Misa. It was organized for 3 days in Antakya at Amal centre, 3 days in Kilis and 1 day at the orphanage of Kilis. These workshops were attended by approximately 100 children, aged between 5 and 13 years old.
Workshops for Women on Recycling
I worked with three projects:
1) Decoration – it was not totally recycling, but it was almost without costs,
2) Recycling of plastic bags;
3) Recycling of glass bottles.
I worked with women aged between 19-50 years old. It was just perfect, they were very open to new ideas, we worked together and we did an awesome job.
The first workshop was in Amal Centre for three days, two shifts, from 10:00 to 13:00, and from 14:00 to 17:00. Each day I was repeating the same project in two shifts.
In Kilis, it was in principle the same with the difference that women were not that flexible regarding time. That’s why I had to do the same projects just before noon and sometimes only one hour in the afternoon, but it was also good, and we did a great job in a short time.
The third workshop was in Antakya in a school, with students. Therefore, I had to change the projects completely, but had already prepared something for such cases. I worked with teenagers, taught them how to make accessories out of old paper. It went well; I did it for two days, only before noon cause the school finish for the girls at 13:00. The rest of the day I worked with one of my colleagues to translate for the boys.
These workshops were prepared by Marwa Sarah and were held for 4 days in Antakya at Amal centre and in school,, 3 days in Kilis and 1 day at the orphanage of Kilis. These workshops were attended by approximately 100 women from Aleppo, Idleb and Homs. Most of these women were educated.
Katherina, 33 y. (Germany)
My work within the project included translating for Helen and Dominique. Once, I was also able to help Marwa doing her handcrafting/recycling work with the women.
As a translator, one might think, you just have to give your voice and that’s it. But to me, it was much more than that. Being there as part of a wonderful group of very engaged people, I experienced the power of a strong will to help combined with the courage to simply do it.
In the beginning, it was very clear, even for someone with no training in psychology that most of the Syrian refugee children in Turkey are heavily traumatised and I doubted that we could ever break through their mental walls of fear and distance, or even be able to take their souls back to this world. Their faces were so indifferent and happiness seemed to be totally eradicated from their vocabulary, so much so that I was pretty scared our mission might end without achieving anything.
Ten days working with these kids proved me wrong. No matter where we were, be it Antakya or Kilis, the reaction of the kids were all the same: after being with us just for a couple hours, they started opening up and latest on the second day of being with them, smile and laughter were back in their hearts and faces.
Besides this short-term effect, they also seemed to “inhale” the presented coping-techniques against fear. They adopted the ones that fitted them individually most. I am positive that the Balsam Project gives young Syrian refugee children in need not only a quick relief (clothes, medicines etc.) here and now, but also something far more long-lasting: self-awareness, mental strength and HAPPINESS!
Our group experienced ten days of work with loving, cordial and open people, who are usually only termed „refugees“. Yet, even if they might have in common their experiences of flight, destitution, or dispossession, they are diverse people, each with a unique story. Most of them welcomed and integrated us as if we were a part of their family even though they live and survive under the most difficult conditions. While working with their children, nobody questioned our work, our aims, or our motivation (only the official Turkish authorities did that punctually). Instead, we tried all together to bring the best out of each other and out of the children. We had almost no language barriers, even though some of us did not speak a common language – we simply did something together and understood each other, using the few words in each other’s language that we had. I don’t think it was central for them that it was exactly our group who worked with the people; it was crucial for us to make that experience, important for our group to learn so much, which I think is true even for the Syrians who are part of the group. But for the women, children, and some young men at the Turkish border it was particularly the impulse they got from us. They saw that they are taken seriously, that their issues are important, that it is possible to perceive the world in different terms and act differently, and, most importantly, all of us learned there are people in the world, whom we did not know ten days ago but who became very important in our lives and who care genuinely about each other – this is how I feel, how we feel now. We formed friendships regardless of differences.
At the same time, the material dimension of the plight cannot be disregarded and should not be forgotten: what is needed on the ground, also in terms of resources, cannot be redressed with one visit or a one-time donation. The work will have to continue for a long time. But with each encounter, the Syrian women, men, and children will maybe meet us with a little bit more dignity, because they will see that they can get back a dignity that is denied to them in their daily lives in Turkey. And maybe each time they will feel more empowered to take their lives into their hands again. I am thankful beyond words for this opportunity to work with such wonderful people – both with the Balsam Project and with the Syrian people in Turkey.
I have worked as an interpreter at the Capoeira workshop (trust) for youth and children, which made me very happy.
My heart filled with joy when I saw the children smile and the shining of their eyes when we played together. They are traumatized from war, many of them are orphans and their future is uncertain.
In our next Balsam 7 visit I want to sing, talk and play games with the children in order to make their daily lives easier.
It was a good experience for me and I am always willing to help again.
Participants: (Names in alphabetical order from Austria)
- AYOUB, Ayham Mr. (Syria)
- BRUGAT, Helen Ms. (Austria)
- DIT MOUAZEN, Wael Karam Mr. (Syria)
- KHALIL, Nadier Mr. (Syria)
- KIRIAKY, Marie Therese Ms. (Syria/Austria)
- KRENCEYOVA, Michaela Ms. (Slovakia)
- KUBIN, Maria Ms. (Austria)
- MOUBAIED, Khalid Mr. (Syria)
- RANDALL, Yasmin Ms. (Austria)
- SARAH, Marwa Ms. (Syria)
- SCHNÖTZINGER, Dominique Mr. (Austria)
- Kathrine (Germany)
(Names in alphabetical order from Turkey)
- HASSOUN, Jamal Mr. (Syria)
- KURDI, Lawand Mr. (Syria)
- ÇOBAN, Tevfik Mr. (Turkey)
(Names in alphabetical order of our team who helped us from Vienna)
- ALHAWI, Wissam
- BOROVANSKY, Melitta
- CAO, Nancy
- EHRHARD, Nadia Ms. (Austria/Palestine/Lebanon)
- ELEID, Mazen Mr. (Syria)
- ENOMOTO, Hisa Ms. (Japan)
- GARABEDIAN, Silva Ms. (Austria/Lebanon)
- HUWIJE, Sanaa Ms. (Syria)
- IDOMIR, Maria
- KHAYAT, Syrus (Austria)
- KINIGADNER, Sonja (Austria)
- All participants are requested to submit their workshop/programme/lecture work plan in detail for Balsam 7 project.
- Kindly note that the next Balsam 7 project will take place in Turkey from 11 to 21 August. Thereafter, from 22 to 23 August, two days holidays in Istanbul (optional).
Prepared by Marie Therese Kiriaky, 24 April 2015