Operation Mercy provides one to two-hour fitness classes for women several times a week in two refugee camps in Iraq, serving 70 participants each month. This fitness project impacts the women’s physical, emotional, and relational wellbeing. Some of the women report how the physical activity has helped them lose weight and regain energy; many of them look forward to the fitness classes as their weekly highlight; and most of the ladies cherish the connections they have made through gathering to exercise—building trust partnerships with each other and actively participating in a community.
After exercising, the women often sit down together and share something from their lives. One day, the Operation Mercy staff asked them: “What are you most worried about in life?” Many ladies responded, listing worries about their children, schooling, work, finances, and their relatives affected by the security situation in Syria. Though their concerns were all valid, the project coordinator encouraged the women not to worry about things they could not change. And, through the process of sharing with and listening to each other, the women, indeed, felt better.
Another time, the staff asked: “Who in your life are you most grateful for?” Going around in a circle, everyone shared the name of a person or people that they were thankful for and why. Often these were parents or other family members, but the women also named fellow fitness participants who had become friends as well as the fitness instructors who cared for them. The staff encouraged the women to reach out to the people they had named and express their gratitude to them.
In addition to exercising, practicing thankfulness and letting go of worry have improved the women’s emotional wellbeing and lessened the level of anxiety they experience.