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Healthy body, healthy mind

An organisation in Jordan has been running exercise classes in Jordan for refugee men – with some surprising benefits

Written by Ben Cohen 2017 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Exercise classes are helping refugee men feel more healthy and hopeful. Photo: Stella Chetham/Tearfund

Exercise classes are helping refugee men feel more healthy and hopeful. Photo: Stella Chetham/Tearfund

A health worker in Malawi, where Tearfund partner Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme (LISAP) has organised groups of churches to work with people living with HIV. Photo: Chris Boyd/Tearfund

From: Health and faith – Footsteps 102

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One of Tearfund’s partner organisations in Jordan has been running exercise classes for refugee men from Iraq and Syria. The classes have been very popular and have brought some surprising benefits… 

Walid, the coach, is affectionately known as ‘the captain’ by his class. He does not have expensive gym equipment, but he certainly has plenty of enthusiasm. 

His classes are based on teamwork, friendship and encouragement. Participants range from a three-year-old boy to a man in his 70s. In the corner of the room a false leg is propped against the wall, as its owner joins in with the exercises on his knees. There is a joyful atmosphere. It is easy to forget that this is a room full of men damaged by their experiences of war and persecution. 

Many refugees in Jordan struggle with depression. Few of them are able to find work. They are often dealing with trauma from the conflict they have fled. All this has an effect on their family life, and domestic violence is common among refugee families. 

Ghassan is 52 and a refugee from Iraq. He attends with his three-year-old grandson, Khalil. Back in Iraq he was mistaken for a terrorist suspect, arrested and tortured. 

‘These classes have given all of the participants self-confidence and hope in life,’ he says. ‘There are other organisations that support us with food. It is important, but for me food is not more important than my soul. I come here, I forget, and this helps me to be more at peace.’ 

Walid knows he is providing something much more than food. ‘Each week we have a subject to talk about first,’ he explains. ‘It is mainly about values. We talk about honesty, commitment, self-discipline, and all the people accept that. After that, I will give them some exercises.’ 

Suleiman, a farmer from Syria, says the classes have had a big impact on him. 

‘These past two or three weeks, I have changed more than the whole three years I have been here in Jordan!’ he says. ‘My wife said to me, “If these classes were every day, I would like you to go every day!”’ 

Building strong relationships with the coach is a big part of the project’s success. Ghassan says, ‘The coach is seriously like my brother, and it helps me to get better.’ 

At the start of the project, the classes took place in community buildings. But now, the local church is getting involved. Churches are providing coaches and places for the groups to hold their classes. They see this as a way of supporting their changing communities, providing practical love and caring for the whole person. 

Ideas for using this article 

Could your church or group run similar classes for men, women or young people in your community? 

A sample exercise plan 

Here are some of the exercises used by the team in Jordan. You can do these at home or in a group. You can choose the exercises and number of repetitions you prefer. 

Begin with some light stretching and warm-up exercises (eg jogging on the spot, touching toes, circling arms, rotating the ankles and stretching the neck from side to side). 

Here is an example routine: 

30 high knees ➜ 10 crunches
30 jumping jacks ➜ 10 crunches
10 burpees ➜ 10 crunches
10 squats ➜ 10 crunches
10 push-ups ➜ 10 crunches
10 push-ups ➜ 10 crunches
10 squats ➜ 10 crunches
10 burpees ➜ 1-minute plank
30 high knees ➜ 10 crunches
30 jumping jacks 

Repeat this workout three times, with a short rest after each cycle.

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Written by

Written by  Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen is Tearfund’s Web Editor. The information for this article was supplied by Stella Chetham, who was Tearfund’s Middle East Communications Officer. Email: [email protected]

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