Living with uncertainty: Lesson three

This is the third in our series from the field, written by Alessandra Morelli (UNHCR Representative, Niger) who shares the hard-won insights of refugees on surviving and thriving in uncertain times.

One of the big challenges of coronavirus is this: How do we continue being creative, despite the social distancing?

I’ve worked for nearly 30 years now with people whose lives have been thrown into uncertainty. Some have survived natural disasters, like the Boxing Day tsunami. Others have experienced torture, extortion and war.

The challenge in all these cases is to manage uncertainty, fear and anxiety through creativity.

Psychosocial activities like art, music, sports are really part of our DNA. They help us get closer to each other and to ourselves. Through creativity, we really can regain our inner spirit.

But creativity comes in many forms. Maya Ghazal fled the conflict in Syria when she was still in her teens. In Damascus, she had known times when it was not just unsafe to leave the house. It was unsafe even to stand by a window for fear of being hit by a stray bullet.

But it was when she arrived in the UK that she felt most isolated.

'In Syria there were a lot of situations where we were basically in full-on lockdown, but it wasn’t just happening to me. When I got to the UK I was all by myself. That was when I learned that I could survive full-on isolation.'

And the way Maya did that was by getting creative.

'I cooked a lot. That was my way of dealing with it. Every time I was upset I was like, "Here’s a quick recipe of how to make aubergines or cake in a cup"

Even in total confinement, there are so many ways to be creative. For Maya that meant cooking. For you, it might be writing, drawing, sewing. It might mean practising Tai Chi or Yoga. It doesn’t really matter. Any form of creativity will help protect and nurture your mental health.

When Maya was trying to start a new life and being met with constant rejection, it was her active creative response that got her through.

'I was getting rejected from schools. I would be the only person in the house and think, "Ok, let’s make another meal." I got to spend time with myself. I got to be a hopeful person. It was really hard. But I found ways to be by myself and be happy by myself.'

When everything else appears to have been taken away from you, you still have your creativity. So what are your passions? What have you always fancied trying and never had time to pursue? Now could be the time. Go for it. You’ve nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Yours in solidarity,

Alessandra Morelli
UNHCR Representative, Niger

You can find out about our work protecting refugees during the coronavirus crisis by clicking the button below. 

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