The rooftop is cold and wet from the rain, but it only takes a short discussion in the Keystone group before all the men are out running in a circle, starting the warm up exercises.
“Had this been at the beginning of the term, at least half of them would have used the rain as an excuse for not joining the exercises,” says the project manager, obviously impressed by the commitment the Keystone group is showing.
For the next 45 minutes, the 12 men on the rooftop are running, jumping, moving arms up and down, doing pushups, squats, jumping jacks and other exercises. A man with a back injury is walking at his own pace. Sitting on a plastic chair, he is doing his own exercises while the others are spread on the floor.
“The Keystone program has really helped me,” he says. “Earlier I was not able to sit on a chair, but had to sit on the floor with my legs stretched out. Now I am able to sit on a chair, though not for a long time – so I feel the movements have really helped me.”
Less kilos – and cigarettes
After the exercises are over, the other men add their opinions, all of them nodding affirmative when asked if they have experienced physical benefit and strengthening of the body.
“We can really feel the difference,” everyone confirms and they prove it by declaring how many kilos they have lost since the start of the program.
“In the beginning, I suffered from shortness of breath, but now I am able to breathe well during the exercises,” says Ahmed*. He, as well as other participants, have stopped or significantly cut down smoking cigarettes.
“I used to smoke two packets a day, now it is 7-8 cigarettes,” says one. “And I used to smoke ‘shisha’ every day, now it is only once a week,” adds another.
Some of them wish the group could meet more than twice a week, but all the men say that they are continuing the exercises at home. “I am teaching my children to do it as well,” says Abdel*.
Body and soul
Not only their bodies have been affected, the program also has had an impact on their mind.
“I feel more peace, and I am calmer now,” says Mohamed*, “it has helped my nerves… I have learned to control my anger better, so I don’t hurt other people”.
One of his friends adds: “Life as a refugee is hard. Before the programme, I could go at home, being really depressed. Now I have something to go to, there is a regular pattern in my days, and my mood has improved.”
The men also highlight the positive value of the short lessons and group discussions at the beginning of each gathering.
“We have learned how to treat our children and wives well, how to act in a good way, giving more love and strength,” are some of the comments. One man shared how he no longer beats his wife when he is angry. Also, it not only benefits their families: “I also feel more capable of treating neighbors and people in the community well.”
A growing community
The men in this Keystone-group came as refugees from different parts of Syria and they didn’t know each other before they joined the Keystone program.
“Basically, we just sat at home, causing trouble and problems in the family, but now we are coming out to take part in activities. Some of us are even attending English lessons together as well. And when we meet some of the others, we talk. We are like friends and brothers now and we visit each other.”