By: Lamia Lahrech (YES 2005-2006, Algeria, hosted by Nacel Open Door in Milford, NH)
As a recent PhD graduate in Trauma Narrative in English Language and Literature, I have come a long way from being the 17-year-old girl who left her family to go on a one-year exchange program in the small town of Milford, New Hampshire. I returned to Algeria a confident, dedicated, and strong-willed young lady, ready to change my surroundings. My journey during the last ten years has included earning two degrees, one in dentistry and a PhD, as well as co-founding an educational non-profit and a language school to develop my social enterprise “HEAL.” HEAL aims to develop education and training programs in non-violent communication, trauma-informed care, peace education, mindfulness, and leadership to unleash the power of Algeria’s youth.
My latest project, The Little Leaders, was a 5-day peace camp held in December 2017 for 20 children between the ages of eight and 12. The camp was funded by a YES alumni grant. Training in leadership, communication, and civic engagement has been on the rise in recent years in Algeria but only for young adults. The driving force behind this project was my belief that, in order to change the community, we need start with the children, to shape their viewpoint to be the change we want to see in our community. To unite the community and equip the participants with needed skills, we decided not to focus only on underprivileged children. The camp was an opportunity for children from different social backgrounds to come together in the natural setting of Sidi Frej Forest and develop their communication skills, civic engagement, tactics of nonviolence, and leadership skills through fun and games.
I developed the camp curriculum based on experiential learning, mindfulness, and non-violent communication. Each morning, we started with a reflection circle and throughout the day we used art and interactive training to introduce the campers to leadership, non-violence, and civic engagement. We ended each day with a one-hour meditation session. Though the techniques were new, the participants loved them.
During the camp, we decided to create a Little Leaders volunteer group. In April, the participants reunited to volunteer to plant 142 trees at Chrea Mountain. In addition, they have the chance to continue meeting at Lahrech Education Center where they are participating in a year-long English class.
Also, a month after the camp, we held a meeting to follow up on the techniques learned and how their participation impacted their families. The outcome of this project not only affected the participants, but also their families. We received feedback that the children became more communicative, empowered, calmer, and focused on their studies after the camp. Meditation was the highlight that many participants took back and shared with their families.
The long-term objective of this project is to encourage participation in programs like YES, Scouts, and Seeds of Peace. Eventually, I would like to recreate this camp for adolescents and young adults. I have been humbeled by the achievement of these children in just a couple of months and the confidence and passion in their eyes.
A heartfelt gratitude goes to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, American Councils, AMIDEAST, Lahrech Education Center, and The Little Leaders team for making this project possible. I have been shaped and empowered by the YES and my wish is in my turn to empower others.