Health Education in Middle Eastern Refugee Camps

An estimated 4.7 million people in the Middle East have been displaced from their homes by violent conflicts. We at Cultures of Resistance have made an effort to magnify the voices of those relegated to live in refugee camps, such as Palestinian hip-hop group Katibe 5, and we have searched for the most creative and dedicated groups working to assist these vulnerable communities. One of these groups is our ally American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), which for over 40 years has responded to the immediate needs of refugees while honoring a commitment to long-term development and self-sufficiency. What really sets them apart, though, is their recognition of the role that creative expression can play in healing and educating people who have endured traumatic experiences. An example of their work that exemplifies the spirit of Cultures of Resistance is their Creative Health Campaign, which employs art, music, dance, and theater to engage and educate residents about nutritional health within refugee camps.

Within many of the camps where aid groups work, the lack of nutritious food and medicine combined with poor infrastructure means that failing health remains a paramount issue. However, it is also true that child refugees, like young people around the world, often choose to eat junk food rather than healthier available alternatives. Indeed, one teen from the Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, reflecting the commonly held belief among kids everywhere who have a sweet tooth, says that "Pepsi is the best thing in life."

With these issues in mind the Creative Health Campaign uses various forms of art to raise awareness of the risks of unhealthy lifestyle habits and the benefits of adopting healthier ones. Program organizers explain their artistic design as a response to the anxiety and uncertainty that pervade life in the camps. As one organizer says, this approach brings "much needed colorful and joyous bright spots in the otherwise gloomy atmosphere" and "a much needed escape" from the "grief and deplorable conditions" of camp life.

ANERA's focus on using creative expression to educate people about food choices makes their work exemplary of Cultures of Resistance's goals. Another example of this work is the organization's annual health festivals, which they have held in 20 different communities since 2006. These festivals are organized around specific health-related themes and incorporate interactive education stations explaining the importance of breast-feeding, healthy eating tips, and the dangers of smoking, to name a few. At the 2009 "Back to Authentic Nutrition" festival in Beirut, ANERA partnered with local and regional musicians to promote health education through song and dance. Local folk musicians like the Palestinian Jalil Club joined regional stars like Iraqi singer Sahar Taha in performing health awareness songs that they produced with the Creative Health Campaign organizers.

May Haddad, ANERA's community health advisor and director of the Creative Health Campaign, identifies the real success of the Creative Health Campaign as providing "a spark of hope to families who face life with a constant struggle for comfort and survival in impoverished conditions". She continues, "these kinds of initiatives show what's possible when creative thinkers come together to tackle tough problems." Cultures of Resistance is proud to support ANERA's work.

Click here to learn more about ANERA's Creative Health Campaign.


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