“And how do we lead our families with love, speak in a kind way, and not with violence?” asks Ahmed. He is one of the coaches at Keystone and he is looking calmly at the ten men, who are also fathers and husbands, sitting around him in the Keystone group.
An intense discussion soon arises on this rainy Wednesday afternoon. They discuss openheartedly, and though Ahmed has to lower the level of the debate a few times, the atmosphere is warm and the men are respecting and listening to each other with smiles on their faces.
Later, Ahmed 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 and the wet surface of the rooftop where they are exercising, all the men participate in the fitness program. Now Aymen, a coach at Keystone and brother to Ahmed, takes over the leadership of the class. He shows the correct positions, counting aloud and encouraging the participants to invest all their energy in the movements. In that way he coaches them through various combinations of physical exercises and cheerful games. After a while, it is impossible to distinguish if it’s drops of rain or drops of sweat on their faces.
Ahmed and Aymen are both well educated, married, and have small children – some of them born in refuge. They both had to flee due to 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 Mafraq, Jordan, with their families.
“I had no work, was just idle, sitting at home in a bad mood, and ended up smoking more and putting on weight,” says Aymen.
He was then, however, invited to attend the latest Keystone coaches’ training event, which Operation Mercy staff facilitated in partnership with a local community-based organization.
His brother Ahmed and three other men were also invited, and over four days, the group of trainees learned how to teach others the Keystone exercise movements. They also learned how to lead focus group discussions and to visit participants in their homes.
“I had a little teaching experience from working with an NGO; my brother didn’t. But the course was very useful,” says Ahmed.
The coaches are now halfway through the curriculum and they can see how the Keystone program has changed the participants.
“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 Ahmed.
During home visits the coaches get close to the men and their families, and they experience how hard life can be.
“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 - or get professional help, if needed,” says Ahmed and Aymen.
They see a lot of stress and anger in the men’s lives due to hard living-conditions.
“In the group we experience that the men especially benefit a lot from topics like ‘anger management’ and ‘how to change habits’,” says Ahmed.
The two brothers, however, are not only coaches for the group, but have also benefited from the fellowship 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 Aymen and 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”.Fact box:
- Keystone coaches take a four-day intensive training course.
- Main subjects are: Physical exercises, leading group discussions, and doing home visits.
- Each coach gets a Keystone manual with help and instructions for each session.
- The teaching style is participatory and inclusive, the coach encourages everyone to participate.
- New coaches share the leadership in pairs.
- The aim of the coaches is to help the men to improve their physical, mental and social well-being.