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How Art is Helping Syria’s Youngest Generation

in partnership with save the children, concordia global patron member

july 22, 2021 | DIgital

12:15-1:00 pm EDT


It’s been more than 10 years since protests in Syria descended into a deadly conflict. This crisis has killed hundreds of thousands, and forced half the country’s population to flee their homes, including millions of children. An entire generation of children and young adults have had to face deep and persistent trauma, affecting their mental health, physical development and, of course, their futures.

Creating art is a proven and powerful way for people of all ages to process traumatic experiences, and ultimately move past them. This conversation, in partnership with Save the Children, explored how the young people caught up in this crisis are using art to share their stories, and how it is being used to support children’s wellbeing, learning, and development.


“Each art form simulates the brain in a different way and correlates to each sense. The impact of HEART can be social, emotional, and neurological. This combination helps to promote mental health well being, as well as learning development in children.”Sara Hommel
“It is important to have a closer look at the personal stories of the crisis. It is important for us to narrate our own story.”Diala Brisley
“According to the UN, the Syrian crisis is the worst manmade disaster since World War II.” Negin Janeti
“My father was born as a refugee in Pakistan during World War II. Since the Syrian crisis is often compared to the disaster of WWII, I felt like I had to do something. My means of action is storytelling and filmmaking.”David Henry Gerson

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Negin Janati (Moderator):


  • Negin Janati  introduced this conversation by emphasizing that it has been 10 years since the start of the uprising in Syria. The last death toll estimated by the UN was 400,000 people and they later stopped counting.
  • The crisis has affected infrastructure, increased poverty, and prompted food scarcity. The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the conflict, and basic services are almost nonexistent.
  • Refugees are being pushed further into poverty, and 40% of school age children are out of school.

Diala Brisley:

What made you want to participate in the film?

  • It was comforting to see other peoples’ experiences that were similar to her own and that they were all struggling with the labels of a refugee.

What was your experience with living in Syria and leaving Syria?

  • There was a big lack of expression under the dictatorship of Syria. The year 2011 was a time for them to express their needs and experiences. Syria was a safe place before the war, however, it progressed into citizens being in danger of being stopped or arrested in the middle of the night for no reason.

How have you used your art to help children and yourself with dealing with the war?

  • Brisley worked with traumatized children from the war in Iraq. These children were traumatized from being forced to deal with adult problems at such an early age due to the war and humanitarian crisis.
  • Helping these children taught Brisley how to live in the moment, and their innocence inspired her.


Sara Hommel: 

How does Save the Children’s HEART program help children when dealing with these tough experiences?

  • The HEART program has supported more than 1 million children. This effort is based on the methods and techniques of creative art therapy. It is designed to be non-clinical in its approach.
  • The HEART program is structured to be psycho-social support facilitated by non-mental health professionals such as teachers, child-friendly facilitators and administrators. The children engage in short arts-based relaxation activities that utilize music or dramatic play to support children in engaging in muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.


  • A key aspect of the HEART program is for the children to showcase their art and communicate what it means to them. The sharing process helps to develop an understanding of themselves and others.
  • The program intentionally uses many different art forms (drawing, music, sculpture, dance, drama, etc). This approach allows the brain to be stimulated in multiple ways, also known as multiple lobe stimulation. Therefore, the HEART program  supports positive brain function, which promotes stress recovery and learning and development. 

How has HEART specifically supported children affected by the crisis in Syria?

  • The Save the Children’s HEART program has been supporting Syrian children for 8 years.
  • In 2013, the organization facilitated art therapy in child-friendly spaces and community centers in Jordan. Since then, HEART has expanded across the region to support children in Syria and countries that are hosting Syrian refugees.


David Henry Gerson

What inspired you to create this film?

  • Gerson explains how he met many inspiring people who came through the crisis in Greece.
  • Gerson filmed interviews, met a diverse group of people with many experiences,  and learned about how people used their voices through art in the uprising. He also met Diala Brisley through this process.
  • The film displays how art is used as a means to process the darkness in the refugee crisis.
  • Gerson conveys how he was hoping to communicate that the crisis isn’t just statistics, but that these individuals  are incredibly inspiring human beings who did not display a victim or other-worldly mindset.