During our three-day site visit to the Collateral Repair Project in Amman, Jordan, we were lucky enough to attend a session with both the creator and the coordinator of the Super Girls program, funded by FAWCO’s Target Project Hope Beyond Displacement. Education Consultant Beryl Cheal is an American with an extensive background in developing early childhood education programs around the world and Education Specialist Karam Hayef is a Palestinian refugee and former teacher. Both women were clearly excited and eager to share their experiences in developing and implementing Super Girls at CRP, which began in 2017.
As Beryl and Karam began to take us through a typical session of Super Girls – from the arrival rituals, to encouraging calm communication, to allowing the girls to select a small treat before departing – the main theme of these sessions that had never even crossed my mind became glaringly apparent. Children need structure and stability. “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” I hear you all say with an eye roll. Hear me out…
Until I attended this session, I think I identified with many other volunteers or charity donors who mean well and are willing to give time and money to a cause without really knowing the full details of the problems or the solutions. I think most people would agree that donating time or money to feed and house refugees is a good thing. If refugees have a place to live and food to eat, they can get on with rebuilding their lives and educating their children, right? As it turns out, it really is not that simple, especially for children who have had their lives turned upside down and have possibly witnessed traumatic events.
"The Super Girls program was really born out of knowing that we wanted to support girls more than we had been," said Amanda Lane, Executive Director of CRP. "We were just really overstretched in how many kids were coming to us. We wanted to... not only building critical thinking skills, but also starting at a young age to empower girls and to work with them, to give them confidence, to help find them ways to improve their self-esteem, help them to find ways to heal from the trauma that they'd undergone."
According to Beryl: “There are normal responses that kids have to these of circumstances of war, violence, and dislocation. One might be confusion about what’s happening. One might be the feeling that life is out of control. One might be the feeling that they can’t trust adults anymore. They don’t care about anybody else. There’s a lack of empathy or a lack of self-confidence.”
Beryl and Karam explained that the Super Girls curriculum was created to help children feel that they have some kind of control over their lives at a time when everything around them seems out of control. The sessions always begin with the same rituals, so that the girls know what to expect when they arrive. The girls are taught how to focus on their breathing by moving their arms up and down with their breaths. A special teddy bear that’s passed around the circle is the key to being heard; a girl who wants to speak must wait for her turn to have the bear in hand to do so. This is a safe space for the girls to talk about their problems and develop coping mechanisms to help them when they are not at the center. Speaking calmly and clearly in front of the rest of the group helps to build each girl’s self-confidence. Maybe most importantly, the girls begin to realize that they are not alone in what’s happening in their lives or how they feel.
Karam also feels that bringing an educational activity to each session is important. While these sessions cannot take the place of receiving a formal education, they can encourage those who are not currently in school, for a variety of reasons, to want to resume their studies. She explains more in this video:
I was always going to be on board with a program named Super Girls but I will admit that I went into the session thinking that it was a ‘nice to have,’ ‘cherry on top’ kind of non-essential program championed by a women’s group. Surely these refugees had bigger problems that we should be targeting? No, it turns out that those responsible for the FAWCO Target Project and those on the ground at CRP know exactly what they are doing with providing this program. Super Girls is giving participants vital skills they need to cope with their new realities and move on with their lives. "Really, the Super Girls program, it's something new and something that we would not have had the funds to be able to start without FAWCO's support," said Amanda.
The more money we can raise for FAWCO’s Hope Beyond Displacement, the more girls will get to attend these sessions and benefit from their new skills. Find out how to donate and make a direct impact on refugees in Jordan.