Learning From My Students

Rita Lahoud is an Arabic teacher at PS 261 in Brooklyn, NY. Previously, she told us about her inspiration for her upcoming trip to Greece, where she planned to use QFI’s #ArabicYoga lesson plan to teach refugees. Now, after the conclusion of her trip, Rita reflects on the influence she had on her students and similarly, the influence they had on her. Would you like the Arabic Yoga Lesson Plan for your classroom? Download it here!

Last April, I had the opportunity to visit Elpida Refugee Home in Thessaloniki, Greece. I delivered much needed educational supplies, food, and hygiene items to its residents, who have been waiting for resettlement for several months and even years. During my visit, I learned that the children not only needed educational supplies, but also needed a tool to cope with much of the trauma and violence that they’ve experienced first hand. It was then I thought to bring the Arabic Animal Yoga Lesson Plan to these children, who so needed the mindfulness in their daily lives.

I traveled to Lesbos, Greece and used the yoga techniques to engage the children at the Kera Tepe Hospitality Village, a refugee camp that is home to approximately 1,000 refugees. Every resident at Kera Tepe is displaced because of war, violence, and misfortune. Families live in small Isoboxes that are extremely hot during the summer and cold in the winter. New arrivals sometimes temporarily share this small space with another family they do not know. Outdoor bathrooms and washing facilities are shared and are located far from their living spaces. There are no cooking facilities, instead, a truck arrives with a food delivery several times a day and passes out food to each family.  While Kara Tepe Hospitality Village is a camp, it also resembles a village in some ways. Most of the almost 1000 residents know each other even though they are from different countries and are of different ethnicities. It has a medical center, a small soccer field, and even a food cart out front near the security guard station that sells falafel. It also has many children of all ages just hanging out day and night waiting and yearning to be engaged in a lesson, a game or just a conversation.

rita-2When the children heard that they would be learning yoga, they were so happy and wanted to be part of the class. Even the Afghan and Kurdish children who didn’t speak Arabic waited anxiously for a mat! I was very thankful for Mabast, a fascinating fourteen-year-old Iraqi Kurdish boy, who stepped up to translate the lesson into Farsi. He had learned both Arabic and Farsi from being in camps so long.

During the yoga lesson, the children were asked to imagine that they were visiting a beautiful farm that has green pastures and tall trees that moved with the breeze. The children got into several yoga positions as they traveled through this make-believe farm. Their bodies formed trees, butterflies, and many types of animals. The lesson was dictated in a story format that was delivered in their own language, making it easy to understand and relate to. The fact that it was translated into Farsi, made the lesson accessible to even more children. As the children learned to focus and relieve stress moving from one animal position to another, I learned a different lesson altogether. I learned how language can touch someone in need. How it can bring people closer together and how communicating to a person in their own language can create trust and perhaps the strongest cultural bond imaginable. The kids were very happy that they were able to spend their time learning yoga in their own language. This meant that they could ask questions, comment, and express themselves much more than they could if the lesson were given in English. I thought that going to Lesbos was something that I needed to do to help others in need, rather what I realized was that I was the one that had something to learn.