By MWAFFAQ ALHAJJAR
Leaders are not always born! They can be made!
That was my first thought after coming back from the DIODE Youth Leadership Camp. It all started when I was appointed to accompany a group of refugee students to a leadership camp, from the school I had been working in since late 2017.
I packed my bags and grabbed a book to read, thinking that I would have time for reading like in a school camp!
As a teacher in a refugee school, and a refugee myself, I do know the obstacles that refugees are facing around the world, particularly in Malaysia.
My biggest concern has always been the children – their hopes and dreams; teenagers who are marginalised and grow up away from normal conditions.
How could they possibly believe in their future, when they witness the barriers their families face daily?
Hence, I was curious to see their interactions during this camp and the results they would get.
The camp helped break barriers
During my first moments at the camp, I knew right away that this experience would be something that would stay with me for a lifetime.
I can’t even begin to express what I felt, seeing my students integrating with the other groups of students and facilitators, expressing themselves slowly and happily.
The camp, as I noticed, was a real opportunity to showcase their skills and talents, to speak about their dreams, loudly and fearlessly.
A quote I had once read sprang to mind: “The art of communication is the language of leadership,” and that was truly what these teenagers needed – to start demonstrating their potential.
Having conversations, building relationships, and exchanging thoughts and ideas with others, confidently helped them overcome the difficulty of being strangers.
Moreover, being embraced with love and care from facilitators and peers paved the path for them to shine.
Looking back at those six astonishing days, there were a few who really stood out.
I’ll never forget Dima*, a teenager from Yemen, who was deeply touched in the Breaking Boundaries session.
She faced her fears and worries, probably for the first time ever. She released all her weaknesses through tears and discovered that she was not alone. Day after day, I could see Dima overcoming her pain and sorrows.
Then there was Ahmad*. He was a young man who impressed everyone at the camp. He was a friend to all the students. In face, all the campers loved to sit with him because of his humble personality.
The camp was also the perfect opportunity for Ahmad to showcase his talent: I discovered that he writes his own lyrics and produces beautiful music.
Another inspiring story would be Bahar*, a girl from Iran who had been facing issues with her self-esteem. She was always covering her face and was always hiding behind the lights. Midway through the camp, she came to the hall of campers, stood tall and proud with the rest of them with a big, confident smile on her face.
That was a sign of breakthrough in her. It started with the Breaking Boundaries session where students were asked to write down their fears and things that were hindering them on a piece of wood. They were then required to break the wood in half.
Her transformation after that session was remarkable. She became more confident, started to show her talents and began to present herself differently.
Being a co-facilitator and a camper at the same time, I was definitely inspired and humbled by the whole experience; watching the students from different backgrounds interacting with each other without fear or limitations.
The facilitators were a group of professionals. Tirelessly, they were extracting the buried energy from every participant, believing in their potential and giving them a hand to light their future.
It was just amazing!
*Pseudonym used to protect the individual’s privacy.
Mwaffaq is from Syria. He is a petrochemical engineer and a creative writer, who is now working at the Malaysian Social Research Institute school as a chemistry teacher. To share your thoughts with him, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.