Lifting weights... from men's shoulders

Whole PersonMental HealthcareRefugees

‘And how do we lead our families with love, speak in a kind way, and not with violence?’ asks Jamal from Syria. He is one of the coaches at Tearfund’s partner programme in Jordan and he is looking calmly at the ten men sitting around him.

An intense discussion soon arises on this rainy Wednesday afternoon. They talk open-heartedly, and although Jamal has to lower the level of the debate a few times, the atmosphere is warm and the men are respectful, listening to each other with smiles on their faces.

Later, Jamal* gives one of the participants a short story to read and then guides the men to reflect on its message – that love is stronger than physical strength and anger. Shortly after, the session is concluded with a statement from one of the participating Syrian refugees: ‘Every problem in the world can be solved without using violence.’

It’s now time for the physical exercises. Despite the rain, all the men participate in the fitness programme. Jamal’s brother, Hussein*, takes over the leadership of the class. He shows the correct positions, counting aloud and encouraging the participants to invest all their energy. In that way, he coaches them through various exercises and games. After a while it’s impossible to distinguish drops of rain from drops of sweat on their faces.

A heavy weight
Jamal and Hussein are both well educated, married, and have small children. They both had to flee the fighting in Syria, first from their homes in Homs, and several times after, when more violence and destruction caught up with them. Six years ago, both ended up in Jordan with their families.
Since the violence began in early 2011, almost 12 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Life can be very difficult in the neighbouring countries where many have sought safety. The local infrastructure isn’t equipped to support them; they are often unwelcome and money and jobs are scarce.

‘I had no work, was just idle, sitting at home in a bad mood, and ended up smoking more and putting on weight,’ says Hussein.
He was then invited to attend a training event facilitated by a Tearfund partner working with a local community-based organisation. His brother, Jamal, and three other men were also invited. Over four days, the group of trainees learned how to teach others an exercise programme as well as how to lead focus group discussions and do home visits.

‘I had a little teaching experience from working with an NGO [charity organisation]; my brother didn’t. But the course was very useful,’ says Jamal.
They are now halfway through the programme and can already see how the men involved have begun to change.

Building strength
‘All have lost weight, live a healthier life and seem to be in a better mood. Some of them were very grumpy and negative in the beginning and didn’t participate in group discussions or exercises. Now they are eager to engage in both and they have started to treat others with respect and listen to them,’ says Jamal.

'Having something useful to do has improved my mental health, too, and I feel much more positive now when I come home to my family.’ Hussein

During home visits, the coaches get close to the men and their families. They see a lot of stress and anger. Living conditions are hard and men, who used to be providers, face being unable to feed and clothe their families. ‘That’s when we hear about their tough problems, which they cannot share in a group. It can make us feel sad inside, because some of them are really depressed. We then try to pass on information, encourage them – or get professional help, if needed.’

‘In the group we experience that the men especially benefit a lot from topics like Anger management and How to change habits’, says Jamal. The two brothers are not only coaches, but have also benefited themselves.

‘I have lost about six kilos and got help to quit the cigarettes. And we are both in much better shape today and have improved our health,’ says Hussein. He adds, ‘We have also got to know people really well and developed a lot of friendships. Having something useful to do has improved my mental health, too, and I feel much more positive now when I come home to my family’.

PLEASE PRAY

  • Thank God for hope – that peace and joy can be found even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. Pray for those people struggling with anger and depression brought on by circumstances beyond their control.
  • Lift up men, women and children around the world who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict. Pray that our partners who are responding will have resources and wisdom to be able to provide support to them.
  • Pray for peace and an end to conflict. Pray that all men, women and children around the world will learn the truth that: ‘Every problem in the world can be solved without using violence.’
*Names have been changed to protect identity

Tarryn Pegna