Refugee Women's Fitness

by Operation Mercy
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness
Refugee Women's Fitness

Pictured together are Sawson* and Fatima* who became friends through fitness classes, getting their temperatures taken as well as using hand sanitizer. Due to new strands of Covid-19, our women’s fitness class continues to wear masks and limit the number of participants. After trying splitting the class into two groups each having class for 2 days a week we have decided to rejoin the class into one group as the participants really felt more benefit from consistent exercise three days a week.

In Middle Eastern culture people can be blunt especially regarding someone’s looks or weight. Unfortunately these 26 year old twin sisters, Nuhad* and Jamela* were always told they were fat and unattractive. A few years ago they started coming to our fitness classes and felt really encouraged that they were beautiful that their actions and lives mattered. Around a year and a half ago, their mother tragically passed away. During the time of mourning, other participants, fitness leaders, and project coordinators came to visit their family and encourage them. Both Nuhad and Jamela felt supported, that they were genuinely cared for that we shared in their sorrow in the midst of this difficult circumstance. Due to the closeness of their relationship with their mother, culturally these girls mourned for a year not going out even to a fitness class. Now the twins have been excited to be able to again join the fitness classes and see their friends who supported them through their grief.

Previously Shireen* was isolated and lonely in her house and wouldn’t go out much. Through fitness she has found more purpose in life and has become confident and content in all she does: whether cleaning, cooking, or caring for her children. The friends Shireen has made through fitness classes have inspired her to return to her passion for acting. Now she is often acting in films and TV dramas! Some neighbors have told Shireen she doesn’t need to go to fitness class anymore as she has lost weight and is thin. Yet she wants to attend fitness because of the purpose she feels and the encouragement she receives. While she also walks, Shireen hopes that women’s fitness project will continue as it is a safe place for women to meet and encourage each other.

*Not the participants real names.

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Participants connecting after our fitness class.
Participants connecting after our fitness class.

 

After one of our fitness classes, we sat down with the participants and invited them to share something they like about fitness, or something that has been difficult for them.

The first person to share was Khalida. She said, "Before I started exercising, I was not able to bend down to tie my shoes, but now I can." Next to her, Shireen shared "The best thing about coming to fitness is seeing my friends. I used to not have any friends and now I have friends." Another lady echoed that and then added, that while she is really blessed by coming, it is difficult for her to leave her family and her husband. She he gets up extra early on days where there is fitness in order to be done with her tasks at home and be able to come. In contrast to this, Leila said "Even though I have a small baby, everyone in my family is happy when I go to fitness".

People have different reasons for coming. Some come for the emotional encouragement, as for example Lazima, who stated "I come for my emotional wellbeing, to see people and be encouraged." Or, as another lady expressed it: "When I have heaviness in my life and I come and see you (directed at the fitness leaders) smile, I feel better." For others, it is even just the effects of exercise itself. One lady excitedly shared "I have lost three kilos! The thing I don't like is that we now only have two days instead of three."

More than 80 women are currently signed up for our exercise classes. However, attendance has varied and been low in the past weeks. Our instructors attribute this to the fact that we split the group into two and are giving each group classes twice a week instead of three times, as we used to when it was just one group, as well as the summer heat that keeps women from leaving their homes in the first place. We will reevaluate the covid-19 situation in the Fall so see if we can increase class sizes again and recombine the two groups.

Reflecting on the project with our staff.
Reflecting on the project with our staff.
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women's fitness staff
women's fitness staff

Our women’s fitness project has been running on full capacity for the past several months. Due to Covid-19, we have had to limit the number of participants and as people keep coming to ask about our classes, the waiting list is growing.

It is incredibly hard to turn people away, some of whom struggle with medical conditions and have been told to exercise by their doctors. However, it would be just as hard to tell the women who have been coming and have become a community, that it is time for them to give other ladies a chance as well.

During our break for the month of Ramadan, a number of the ladies have started meeting up to go for walks in the camp at 9pm. It is good to see that the women remain connected and support each other in times when we can’t meet together as a group.

With your support, we have decided to launch a second class as soon as possible, providing an opportunity for another 25 ladies to exercise twice a week, to be encouraged and to build relationships that provide support.

Thank you!

women's fitness attendance records
women's fitness attendance records
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Our fitness classes take place in a wedding hall!
Our fitness classes take place in a wedding hall!

More than ever, women in the camps are looking for a place to connect, exercise and get away from their homes for a bit. The corona pandemic and economic downturn weigh heavily on everyone and there are very little opportunities to escape these topics.

With your support, we relaunched our women’s fitness classes in a Syrian refugee camp in October!

To avoid spreading Covid, we take care to maintain distance, limiting the number of attendants and making sure everyone wears masks even while exercising. When entering the room, participants disinfect their hands and get their temperature checked. Despite all these measures, attendance is high. In fact, even though we rent a large wedding hall, we often have to turn people away in order to be able to maintain the required distance as marked by little cones! Our fitness coordinator has been visiting with individual participants after the classes, checking in on how they are doing and encouraging them however she can. Helping people to connect with each other and giving them a chance to exercise and be encouraged contributes to the emotional and mental well-being of the Syrian refugee women we serve.

Visiting with fitness participants after class.
Visiting with fitness participants after class.
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It is hot outside, 40 degrees Celsius, nevertheless the Syrian women are eager to start fitness classes again. The classes have been on hold for several months due to Covid-19, and the women want to be together again. They have been on social media chatting with each other, encouraging each other, and thus building community; but it's time they meet and exercise together as one of the women mentioned.

Restrictions have been eased in the camps and camp management in one of the camps gave permission to start the classes again making sure Covid-19 guidelines are in place. In Domiz 1, the other camp where we do fitness classes, we are still discussing with camp management if it would be possible to start up as well.

Although the classes have been on hold we are very thankful that the project continues making an impact as there is community build and participants in our classes keep connecting throuh social media.

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Organization Information

Operation Mercy

Location: Orebro - Sweden
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Maarten de Wolf
Orebro, Sweden
$9,948 raised of $40,080 goal
 
94 donations
$30,132 to go
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