Most refugees in Jordan are not allowed to work. Many of them therefore spend their days at home doing nothing. They are isolated, with too much coffee and tobacco, too little exercise, and with no place to share their frustrations and traumas. Keystone creates a context for these men where they can improve their physical, social, and mental health through new supportive relationships and exercise.
“We created the Keystone project because we consistently saw preventable lifestyle related health issues among refugee men. The men need something to work towards instead of allowing the tragedies they’ve experienced control them in unhealthy coping cycles,” says relief program manager Tim Nall.
Physical activity and supportive relationships with others are keystone habits. They have a multiplying effect of positive behaviors in other areas of one’s life, most often immediately experienced by the families of these men.
Operation Mercy partners with local community centers to provide the space for a Keystone group to meet, with the plan that the community centers take on Keystone as their own. 15-25 men meet for 90 minutes, twice a week, for 3 months. The first 30 minutes is spent in a group discussion on life skills, identifying community resources, and facilitating the men to come up with their own solutions to problems. The next 60 minutes is an exercise workout with no equipment, where men cheer each other on, get stronger, healthier, and burn stress. These small victories build confidence to overcome more difficult challenges. The impact of Keystone is visible. Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Palestinian men start to call each other brothers and they open up about their fears and goals. Then, they take the community to a deeper level by holding each accountable to improve and overcome.
Some of the men have injuries due to bombings, shootings and torture. Everyone has lost loved ones. The trauma they have experienced impacts the women and children they live with, but through Keystone they have the chance to turn things around for them and their families. Some of them have said with tears: “You are like a miracle for us. We came from nothing and you welcomed us."