People have asked about the process of establishing Hope Travels partnerships. There really isn’t a perfect answer, aside from the fact that I reach out to people in as many ways as possible…Google searches, Facebook messages, connections from friends, and hanging out in a new city with eyes open to new partners. Social media posts have also been helpful. Sharing project information does more than keep my family and friends connected, it offers invitations to potential partners. The more people know I am interested in sharing hope and engaging in conversations about proactive mental health, the more doors seem to open.
(Like right now, when I am sitting at a cafe near the Red Sea with a beautiful view, cup of chai, and some zatar bread while planning for my next destination)
In some cases, I communicate for weeks, ending up with a handful of empty promises and lost connections. I’ve been excited about potential projects and then ghosted – jilted without identifiable cause and a bit disheartened. It’s hard not to take that personally after weeks of communication. However, there are rare gem moments where my outreach receives instantly positive results, the celebrated message bubbles of receptive fingers typing a response. As cliche as it sounds, people who are openly excited about working together have given me a bit of hope. In fact, Hope Travels has taught me a lot about perseverance and maintaining a positive attitude when things don’t seem to be connecting.
With all that said, magic happened when reaching out to AlHadaf Training Center in Amman, Jordan.
Before arriving, I found AlHadaf from a general Facebook search using keywords related to my outreach interests including, “Amman, Jordan, mental health, outreach, women, art, refugee, nonprofit.” As I have done a hundred times, I shared an invitation message telling about Hope for the Day and the Hope Travels “Agent of Impact” program. Quickly, and with great celebration, I received a response from Maran Maayah who is the organization’s CEO and founder. In just a few welcoming words, she was open to meeting upon my arrival, clearly proud to the work they were doing, and willing to discuss some partnership ideas.
My first day in Amman was a bit bleak. With so much busyness in Kurdistan/Iraq, I arrived feeling depleted without much energy for grand plans here. Rain poured down and filled me with a malaise and ideas that I should make this a quick stop on my journey, see the major sites, and head to other destinations. Staying close to bed for a few days didn’t do much to change my spirits and I wallowed in bed on the only day I have felt a bit sick this year. My biggest venture during the first days in Amman was to a nearby cafe to warm my soaking feet and watch the storms pass by.
With some sense of commitment on my shoulders, I traveled to the training center, where Maran greeted me with great enthusiasm and excitement about the work being done there. My tentative nature turned to enthusiasm as we walked through the bright facility, she stopped to describe collections of artwork on the walls that were obviously created by children. Uninformed eyes could see paintings on the walls, but Maran stopped to point out some of the specific places in the artwork where paintings of regimented blocks and designs opened to more hopeful representations of the world. Each piece of art was the story or lesson shared with one of the Jordanian orphans or Iraqi refugees served at the center.
Bulletin boards shared pictures of children and adults engaged in a variety of activities and dream statements filled the walls.
In one of the classrooms, where I mentioned feeling a bit embarrassed by my worn out face and cosmetic-free face, a group of beautiful women chatted and laughed along as they practiced cosmetology skills. The center is always a hub of activity including classes that include sewing, positive self image for teens, and more.
There is a great energy at the AlHadaf Training Center. Maran’s oversight requires strong respect and a sense of safety in each experience. Over the course of time, she has worked hard to build positive relationships between the women who learn together. They can be real – and share their great challenges with each other – knowing that they will always be treated with dignity and respect. AlHadaf provides more than training sessions, they provide a sense of community and a place where people are received with open arms. Maran and the AlHadaf team bring strong personal and professional pride to the center each day.
During the next week, collaboration sessions mirrored my favorite moments (with Colleen Walsh, of course) at school. Ideas flew as I worked with my Muna and Joy, my planning partners, to blend mental health outreach and art therapy activities within their weekly English and leadership lessons. They are committed to excellence – but also want to make sure that the sessions are fruitful and fun.
We found inspiration for our sessions from two great Hope Travels partners. For our Valentine’s Day session, we spent time getting to know each other. For me, the relationships formed stem from informal time together and Paper for Water has taught me that there is great relational power in a single piece of paper. With a tremendous story and endless examples of generosity, Paper for Water focuses specifically on using origami sales to fund water in developing countries. They have been generous partners who have supplied stacks of origami paper to build connections during my journey. This activity was a nice warm-up for our days spent together.
Our new partner, Megan Murphy of The Kindness Rocks Project, enthusiastically encouraged us in using the phenomenon and culture of kindness she has created. Her inspiration for sharing painted rocks with beautiful messages became the base for group sessions and mental health discussions. While Megan’s project began with a few simple rocks shared on the beach, it has extended around the globe as a way to carry messages of hope and kindness in rock gardens. To me, she is an example of one person who saw a need and filled it. Her actions teach others that caring (even for strangers) is an active process. I was thrilled that she became our partner who shared paint pens and supplies for us to use as my journey continues.
I was also EXTREMELY THANKFUL for Raed, who graciously offered to find bags of rocks for us.
For these moments, Hope Travels was working exactly as I imagined, building relationships and supporting people who are already doing amazing work in their local communities.
During each Kindness Rocks session – the classroom filled with women and children who are not only neighbors, but deeply connected by the shared experience of being Iraqi refugees forced to flee their homes due to threats from ISIS. Discussions about hope and change moved from influencing the world to also focusing on family relationships and personal self care.
There was so much chatting as everyone painted – and lots of laughter. Women shared about their appreciation for the AlHadaf team and the value placed on their weekly time together to learn and grow. For some, art projects may seen juvenile or like time spent creating isn’t enough to address big issues. To me, artistic environments supports friendship and a small escape from routines.
People converse openly as they are painting and benefit from making something beautiful and purposeful. The more I learn about mental health, the more I recognize the value of self expression strategies like art, music, fitness blended with self care and the power of serving others.
Projects like AlHadaf, Kindness Rocks, and Paper for Water are making a difference because they offer tangible and positive outlets that build communities. And, I am still in awe that we can be partners while miles apart.
After a rocky start, time in Jordan has far exceeded my hopes – all because of the open doors by AlHadaf. I am grateful to be welcomed into the powerful place of friendship they have created.
As with other nonprofits, AlHadaf is always in need of funding to support their goals. People who want to learn more or donate to their cause can find necessary information on their webpage.
For my remaining time in Jordan, I will travel to Petra, Aqaba, and Wadi Rum – along with supporting local artists in the creation of a Hope Mural. More to come…