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Displaced Heritage: social cohesion, economic opportunity, and self-confidence for people on the move and their hosts

We will enable children and youth from Syria and Afghanistan to rebuild their lives through heritage, culture and creativity.

Photo of Scott L.
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

65 million people are on the move, more than at any time since the Second World War. When people flee conflict or natural disaster, they take their children and whatever precious possessions they can. But they also carry their heritage and culture with them: perhaps not the monuments and buildings back home, often damaged and looted; but the traditions, rituals, songs, dances, crafts, recipes, folklore, know-how, and memory of the place they used to call home. Refugee populations carry within them deep intellectual, cultural and creative resources, which can provide the starting point for rebuilding. Often the new situation that refugees and other displaced people find themselves in is alien or even hostile: hoarded into camps, prevented from undertaking productive work, in limbo between persecution and indifference. Our organisation, Turquoise Mountain, works precisely in these difficult situations, with Afghans, Syrians and other nationalities. We provide the structure, space, materials, and guidance for people who have fled conflict to rebuild their lives through heritage; to re-engage with their traditions and culture, and to recreate a sense of confidence and purpose, even in a foreign environment. We have done this with craftsmen in Afghanistan for the last 12 years, and with Syrians in Jordan over the past year. We are now ready to embark on a much larger program of heritage-inspired activities with children and youth, who have been displaced by two of the world’s bloodiest conflicts -- Afghanistan and Syria. This approach bridges peace and prosperity. It gives populations displaced by conflict new resources for understanding and getting on with their new hosts. At the same time it gives them the opportunity to rebuild their lives -- both personally and economically -- to become once again prosperous members of society.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our project works with children and youth (aged 7 to 16) across Afghanistan and Jordan, and belonging to two main groups: those from displaced communities, and those from host communities interacting with these groups. In order to reach as many beneficiaries as possible, our program will adapt to the local context. Inside the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, our program focuses on Syrian youth only, while we will work directly with mixed communities outside the camp involving Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and other nationalities resident in Jordan -- where social cohesion is a key concern. In Afghanistan, we work among Afghan communities affected by different waves of displacement: internal displacement due to conflict from the south and east towards cities, and returnees from Pakistan -- a major issue currently, causing serious tension as different groups compete for limited resources.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

There are three main reasons that this project is unique. It addresses the consequences of prolonged displacement from two of the toughest conflicts in the world, in Syria and Afghanistan; these two countries have produced the largest number of refugees of any contemporary conflicts. This project engages directly with the magnitude of this challenge. Secondly, Turquoise Mountain already has an established presence in both Afghanistan and Jordan (among Syrian refugee communities), allowing us to mobilise and implement new ideas very quickly. Thirdly, this idea is built on 12 years of experience, and trial and error: we are an organisation that takes risks, and we learns from our mistakes. This project will benefit from this track record of 12 years, as well as the deep experience of our partners.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Turquoise Mountain’s mission is to revive traditional crafts, restore historic buildings, and promote cultural heritage, in order to create skills, jobs and a renewed sense of pride in communities.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

There has been a lot of media attention on the destruction of historic sites in Syria and Afghanistan, such as Palmyra and the Bamiyan Buddhas. Much less has been said about the heritage that people carry with them. When we had discussions with Syrian parents and teachers in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan in 2017, they told us how disappointed they were that children were not learning about Syrian heritage in school – how this heritage was their “passport back to Syria”.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In both Jordan and Afghanistan, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. Jordan’s social peace is impacted in several ways by its role as one of the countries with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. With close to 20% of its entire population being refugees, the situation is putting a heavy strain on the country’s economy. This is creating inter-community tensions, aggravated by rising unemployment, cultural differences, and a feeling of unfairness over differences in the treatment of Syrians and Jordanian. In Afghanistan, decades of ethnic, religious, and political struggle, compounded by a lack of economic opportunities and critical governance issues, have made insecurity and economic concerns the main obstacle to peace. Inter-ethnic tensions are exacerbated and the lack of inter-community interaction is preventing the establishment of trust. Without public trust between communities, and open channels for dialogue, it remains difficult to foster prosperity.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

With more than 12 years’ experience in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain has built strong relationship with a wide array of partners necessary for the project. At a governmental level, memorandum of understandings have been signed with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Information and Culture. At an institutional level, the organisation is partnering with local schools to organize visits of the restored Old City of Kabul, and to facilitate the participation of children and youth in hands-on heritage workshops. Finally, the uninterrupted presence of Turquoise Mountain in the Old City of Kabul has enabled a relationship of trust to develop with the local community. In Jordan, we have been built strong relationships with the Syrian artisan community, and have maintained a presence with refugee communities through strong partnerships with international organisations (Mercy Corps, UNICEF) as well as local NGOs dedicated to outreach and education (Tiraz, Petra National Trust).

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In Jordan, among the 660,000 refugees registered with UNHCR, 24% of the population are under 18. For the same age category, the population in the Jordanian refugee camps of Zaatari and Azraq represents up to 40%. In Afghanistan, that same group makes up 55% of the population. While most of these young people benefit from basic education, there is huge untapped potential for hands-on creativity. The rich cultural heritage of these young people’s home countries provide resources for creativity.

Geographic Focus

Afghanistan, incl. IDP & returnee groups. Jordan, incl. Syrian refugees and Jordanian hosts.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project will span 24 months, most of which will be entirely dedicated to the active implementing segment of our program in both Jordan and Afghanistan, as we move from the test phase into more widespread piloting. There will be a mid-project review (month 12) and a final program assessment (month 24).

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Our Workshop

Hi Scott
This is so great. At Our Workshop we are trying to build human connection, peace and ways towards prosperity through craft practices and making with 'waste' materials. We are also allowing heritage and history a safe space to be spoken about and expressed - and recorded/remembered/discovered. I applaud your work wholeheartedly and wish you much luck. I would be very interested in learning more (I havent yet looked at your website, but I will) in future and also sharing how we work and what we learn as we develop as an organisation in the community we operate in and for.
Creativity and play as a healing, constructive and natural way to connect and share!!!! Yassss!!
let's stay in touch??
Heath Nash Our Workshop: Making Togetherness