When Samir* did not show up for his regular Keystone group meeting, the group’s coach explained that Samir was currently at a memorial service for his brother, who had died of cancer. When the group heard this, five of them decided to go to the memorial service instead.
Under different circumstances, this would not be unusual, but in this case, it was significant. Three of the five men who chose to go were Muslims, while Samir and his late brother were Orthodox Christians. They were willing to put aside their religious differences and step into a church to show support to a fellow Keystone group member who has now become their friend.
This is one of the visible effects of the Keystone programme: men, who were once strangers, form into bands of brothers, despite socio-economic, religious or other differences that have once kept them apart.
The Keystone programme was created when Operation Mercy saw many refugee men in Jordan struggling with issues such as unemployment, poverty, trauma and lack of self-esteem. Many resort to unhealthy or destructive means to cope, such as isolating themselves, doing nothing or smoking excessively. Keystone gives the men an opportunity to improve their physical, mental and social health through the combination of exercise, supportive community and positive input.
Keystone groups meet twice a week for 90 minutes. The first 30 minutes is spent discussing life skills and struggles, identifying community resources and coming up with solutions to problems. It is a safe space for the men to share their hopes and fears, hold each other accountable and help each other overcome. After that, the coach leads them through a fun but challenging 60-minute workout, which requires no exercise equipment. This helps the men release stress and improve their health, as they cheer and encourage each other on.
Many of the men have experienced changes in their lives through Keystone. The physical activities and supportive relationships have further reinforced positive behaviours in other areas of their lives, including a positive impact on their families.