The Art of Living's techniques are helping thousands of Syrians cope with war

Syria is grappling with the most devastating war of the 21st century. Over 4.8 million Syrian refugees are struggling to find safety, dignity of life, and emerge out of the trauma of war. The Art of Living and its sister organization International Association for Human Values (IAHV) are conducting numerous workshops in the region to help people cope with the painful situation.

Comprehensive programs including evidence-based breathing techniques, deep relaxation, cognitive processes and physical exercises have so far been imparted to many people, including over 300 internally displaced people this year in Damascus itself.

For people living in the heart of conflict and terror, these programs have brought tremendous relief and are helping them shed the fears and trauma that had often become their constant companion. The organization is also working with the Syrian refugees living in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as with their host communities, who equally face tremendous challenges.

The healing touch

The Art of Living has been active in Jordan and Lebanon since 1999 and innumerable people from all walks of life have benefitted from its highly effective programs. Gurudev visited Jordan and Lebanon as part of his peace mission. During the 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict, The Art of Living and IAHV volunteers actively helped people on both sides of the conflict cope with the severity of the situation.

The latest initiative by the organizations aims to address the psychosocial consequences of violence, restore overall well-being, and work on prevention of violence and radicalization among 16.000 war-affected children in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as strengthen their immediate family, school, and community environment.

Programs for children

Children are often the most vulnerable in war and conflict situations. They face anxiety, depression, insomnia, post-traumatic stress (PTS), anger and aggression, lack of vision, domestic violence, substance abuse, the risk of recruitment, and even suicidal tendencies.

To reduce these symptoms and help the children cope with their new reality, IAHV has so far conducted 63 Stress Relief and Resilience (SRR) workshops for 1,988 children aged 7-16 years. The program aims to address some of the psychosocial consequences of conflict and violence, and provides relief.

Through these programs, the children are able to get back to their normalcy and be like themselves again.

In Zarqa, Islam, a shy and timid 12-year-old girl, who appeared hesitant and aloof at the beginning of the program, had a huge smile on her face by the end of the program. At the follow-up session, she seemed to glow, and the smile never left her face.

More confident and happiness restored, she said, “It was as if a wave of positivity has entered my life. My days weren’t always happy, sometimes I smile, but most days, I just don’t. Now I am smiling all the time, especially after applying the techniques given to me by the trainers. I even participate in class now! My mother tells me that something has changed, it’s as if the people around me can also see this positive wave that has come into my life, and it’s really amazing.”

The video is a testimony to the difference the children have felt after undergoing the holistic training sessions conducted by the IAHV.

It’s not only just the children but teachers, caregivers, peace/social/youth frontline workers and parents too that need help in coping with the stress that has arisen due to the conflict in the region and in order to be better able to support the children.

Programs for teachers/caregivers

To make sure that the children are receiving the right care and to strengthen a supportive environment for them, eight trainings in Personal Resilience, Stress Management and Professional/Self Care (PC) were conducted for 140 teachers and frontline workers.

PC improves the wellbeing, resilience and performance capacity, helps to prevent burn out and improve stress management for professionals working in difficult circumstances on a daily basis.

A teacher in Ruseifeh says, “I was living two contradicting lives, a part of me was mourning, while the other part was struggling to get back into a routine with my mother and siblings. I thought my life would never be the same again, and I did not like the person I was becoming. What I took from this workshop is that I have to accept the past and live my present moment, and I truly felt like I was doing so willingly, and not because I was taught to do so.”

There are many such testimonials that strengthened the commitment of the organizations to reach out to more people.

Programs for parents

With an aim to benefit the adults as well, IAHV conducted three workshops in Healing, Resilience and Empowerment Training (HRE) for 97 mothers of the children who attended the SRR workshops across the targeted zones.

HRE aims to improve the wellbeing, resilience, and understanding of the family members so that they are able to provide support to their children, release stress, anxiety, worry, and increase their capacity to adapt to the new reality and move forward.

In Zarqa, participants were mostly widowed Syrian mothers who had gone through various traumatizing events, from forced relocation to witnessing the loss of a family member.

A mother testifies after attending the program, “I have gone through a series of difficult circumstances. Through this workshop, I was able to release the emotional and physical stresses that have accumulated, and now I feel like I have given myself what I need, and now I am ready to give those around me.

The background

The reason for such an intensive and urgent need to reach out to the population in this region arises due to the long-drawn conflict that has left the majority vulnerable to psychological issues and with no solution in sight.

Jordan has been struggling with multiple national challenges such as high unemployment rates, dependency on foreign aid and a slow economy. The Syrian influx poses yet another massive challenge on the Kingdom, creating a strain on its already scarce resources, and increasing social tensions between refugees and host community members. The public schools have become overcrowded, unemployment has risen, and public morale and hope have gone down.

Focus areas

IAHV has focused its activities on some of the most vulnerable places in both Lebanon and Jordan. For example, Dafyaneh in Mafraq is one of the poorest villages in the Kingdom and is situated less than one mile from the Syrian border. Agraba is a small town in the Governorate of Irbid, and from here one can see the towns controlled by the rebel forces. The inhabitants of Agraba, Jordan, and Syria hear the sounds of bombs dropping on a daily basis.

Zatari camp, home to over 80,000 Syrian refugees, is now the fourth largest city in Jordan. Similarly, the city of Zarqa, already home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, now hosts over 50,000 Syrian refugees, making it the third largest city in Jordan.

Much needs to be done with so many people being uprooted from their native place and having to live as refugees in other countries. While the amazing resilience of many people in the face of such adverse circumstances is admirable, frustration, anger, desperation, and unhappiness surround most at all times. IAHV programs are aiming to reduce social tensions and support the inclusion and cohesion among communities.

Outreach and continuous support plan

IAHV programs are designed to address specific problems faced by the affected groups in Lebanon and Jordan. These are tailor-made to suit the situation and the sensibilities of the region and culture. Selected youth in the region will be specially trained as Youth Peace Ambassadors who are responsible for designing and implementing awareness and peacebuilding projects to prevent and reduce violence in their families, schools, and communities.

As a long-term plan, IAHV will be conducting regular follow-up sessions for PC graduates, which will prepare them to take the Training of Trainers (TOT), another bold step in the project that will ensure multiplication and sustainability across the most vulnerable schools and communities in Jordan. Around 8,000 children, 250 professionals and 1,250 parents in Jordan will be reached through the project, and a similar number in Lebanon.

Several summer camps will be organized for over 400 children where youth who are most at risk of violent behavior, self-harm, suicide, aggression or recruitment, will be taking deep trauma relief, healing, resilience and human values workshops.

The positive response and result of the programs have been extremely encouraging and IAHV and Art of Living volunteers are positive that the lamp of love and compassion that they are igniting in the hearts of the thousands of people in the region is now going to spread even further.

These are what some of the participants had to say after attending the programs in the region:

 “I think this will address the root causes of conflict, the psychological dimension that nobody deals with or comes close to. They think it is something very complicated. They need to find solutions for difficult cases and treat each case separately. However, this is an effective group approach for psycho-social issues.” - Sanaa, social worker, Beirut

Another social worker in the Zatari camp said, “We are working in an environment that is in dire need of psychosocial activities. I have never seen such an effective stress relief as in this workshop. This will heavily reflect on the type of work that I do, and will allow me to truly benefit the Syrian refugees that I work with.”

You are more effective in psycho-social support than any of the specialized agencies.” - Youth worker, Tripoli, Lebanon

 “Now we can trust again. We did not trust anyone anymore,” - A displaced Yazidi from Sinjar, Iraq

IAHV’s mission is to foster a deeper understanding of the values that unite everyone on all sides of the conflict as a global community and to strengthen their practice in everyday life. The programs of the organization enhance clarity of mind, shift attitudes and behaviors, and develop leaders and communities that are resilient, responsible, and inspired.


The next phase of work, slated to run for three years, started in December 2016. During the 3 years, the organization plans to cover:

  • 18,000 vulnerable, at-risk, and high potential Iraqi and Syrian refugee and host community children in Jordan and Lebanon
  • 300 teachers, caregivers, peace/social/youth frontline workers
  • 3000 parents/family/community members

IAHV is committed to continuing to add optimism to a community that has been losing the meaning of hope for years now and will continue to work together with its partners towards social cohesion that will serve as the backbone of stability to Jordan and Lebanon and to the rest of the region.

The team

The impact of the programs is visible in the smiles of the participants and the relief that they feel when someone deeply cares for them as a fellow human being.

It is the hardworking team of volunteers that has made all the difference. In a region where NGOs are often suspected of serving one interest or the other, where “volunteers” expect payment and NGO staff often work for salaries only, IAHV and the Art of Living volunteers are highly inspired, selfless and committed members who care deeply for humanity.

A one world family is the motto of the organizations and they are committed to creating a world that is free from violence of any kind – of action, word or thought.

Here are the experiences of participants in the programs held in Lebanon in 2015: