World Refugee Day 2016

Being there at the camps, with the refugees
Sherouk Zakaria/Dubai

Source: Khaleej Times – June 20, 2016
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A poet once said, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”

Dubai-resident Nawar Ismail, whose name was changed for anonymity, would agree. Her family fled to Turkey in search of a better life when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Others remained internally displaced in Syria.

Nawar’s case has proven common as a survey by NRS International recently showed that 1 in 4 people living in the UAE have family or friends affected by a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.

Limited access to water and electricity obstructs communication between Nawar and her relatives.

Despite the hurdles, they still remain grateful for one thing: Survival. “They survived, and that is what matters,” she said.

The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is approximately 60 million. One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.

For refugee donation, contact

> Emirates Red Crescent

> Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF)

> Share The Meal initiative by United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)


The good news is, help is coming. The NRS International study showed that 73 per cent of UAE residents contributed to an international humanitarian cause in the past year, while 80 per cent are likely to continue their support in the coming year.

Rabha Saif Alam, Expert at Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt, said the attention to refugee crisis “has significantly increased” with the number of conflicts affecting countries around the globe.

She added that a huge number of donations are from the UAE and GCC counties ranging from medicine, food, drugs to building hospitals and camps.

But the best solution, Alam pointed out, is encouraging the United Nations efforts to end conflicts that create crisis in the first place. “We can help, but we cannot solve a problem if we ignore its roots,” she said.
Volunteering tales

“I think I found my life’s passion,” said Dubai-based Deena Stevens of her volunteering experience. The 24-year-old was part of a group who worked on the Greek Island of Lesbos in December 2015. She helped at Stage 1, where they received 15 boats a day, each carrying 60-80 people.

“We never slept. Everyone got stressed and sick.”

But witnessing the death of a woman and her five-year-old child of hypothermia on a windy morning is what broke Stevens.

Volunteers blamed each other, and since Stevens was a graphic designer whose job was to raise awareness about hypothermia, she was not any different.

“I still see them in my dreams. When I walk into a cold air-conditioned building, I shiver as I remember the situation.”

As she came back to the UAE in March, Stevens took it upon herself to spread awareness through giving talks. She said helping refugees find houses instead of the horribly-conditioned tents is their ultimate need.

Currently collaborating with a camp and flying in to shoot documentaries, Stevens noted that getting involved in refugee crises is “addictive. It’s hard to break yourself away from it even when you’re overseas.”
Spread the cheer

Founders of Dubomedy comedy school Mina Liccione and her husband Ali Al Sayed echoed similar sentiments. Their volunteering project, Clowns Who Care, involves collecting needed supplies (blankets, powder milk, soccer balls, art and educational supplies for kids) and travelling to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan where they perform comedy shows and art workshops for a good cause. The couple is going again after Ramadan.

“People lived in tents made of rice bags in a small camp in Jordan,” Liccione said. “Yet, the kids could not stop playing and laughing. Their mothers served us food even when they had nothing.”

Al Sayed added that the lack of water and electricity, living under cracked ceilings that offered no protection during winter, and absence of education to kids were the hardest issues to come across.

“We have to know what they actually need. Ask the organisation you deal with about their needs before you donate,” he said.

While survival is critical in old camps in Jordan, bigger camps that fit thousands of refugees “definitely need access to educational programs,” said Liccione.

She added: “It is the most intense and unforgettable experience one can go through. You never watch the news the same way again because you saw reality.”

Speak trauma

Susan Smith, Mass Communication professor at the American University of Sharjah and cofounder of Speak Trauma, said her team is currently crowdfunding for a documentary and storytelling summer workshop at a school for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Speak Trauma involves helping refugees tell their own stories through documentaries since “talking about pain is the first step toward healing.”

“They need to speak out their own losses and tears instead of the exceptional stories portrayed in the media,” said Smith who will travel to Turkey in summer.

“Let’s reinforce the children because they are the future.”


The Shocking Truth About Muslims

The Shocking Truth About Muslims
Originally posted on

Donald Trump caused a frenzy when he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. His worrying attitude brought to light the many myths and stereotypes surrounding the Muslim community. So, what’s the real truth?

In an attempt to send out a positive message and to change the way people think about Muslims, comedian, artist and founder of the UAE’s Dubomedy, Mina Liccione, has made a short film in order to bring to light how ridiculous the prejudices are.

“As a Christian-American married to a Muslim I was horrified when Trump made headlines stating that Muslims should be banned from entering the USA,” said Mina when asked why she created the film. “He said a lot of racist and hurtful things and this statement put me over the edge. Rather than getting angry and doing nothing I decided to use my talent and passion for comedy to do something positive.”

“Muslims are scary, Muslims are terrorists, let’s ban all Muslims,” starts the short film before Mina asks 20 non-Muslims, living in a Muslims country about their what they really think.

The interviewees are a diverse group with varying ages, cultures and religions represented. “I wanted people from diverse backgrounds,” said Mina. “I put together a unique group who would bring unique points of view.”

Kind, graceful, hospitable, tolerant and generous were the most common words used to describe Muslims in the film. When it came to terror, the only terrorising they were deemed guilty of was force-feeding. “There’s so much food,” one interviewee said while laughing. “[Yes, I get terorrised with food] by my in-laws every Friday” joked Mina.

While some may question Mina’s technique, she insists making light of the topic will actually help people understand more: “I’m a comedian by nature. I think humour is the perfect tool… It’s makes you laugh and then it makes you think. A lot of truth can be told in jest and since it’s not aggressive more people tend to listen.”

“I read online that in the USA only 38 per cent of all Americans actually knew a Muslim personally,” added Mina. “People associate Muslims with what the media portray. I thought why not show a funny side to these negative stereotypes to help people who might not have any Muslim friends see that they are just like the rest of us… Human, caring, creative…”

Mina is now co-writing a stand-up comedy show with her husband Ali Al Sayed, combining their lives from different worlds in the hope of helping break negative stereotypes in a humorous but honest way.

Watch the video and don’t be fooled by people like Donald Trump.


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Winter Coat Drive

Giving the gift of warmth

This winter has been brutal on refugees. Mina and Ali are collecting winter coats, blankets, hats, gloves and scarves to be delivered to the Gaza Refugee Camp in Jerash, Jordan.

Ali wrote:

A few nights ago, in NYC it was so cold that my heart rate had gone up significantly and I honestly thought I was going to collapse (I was saying the Shahada … Muslims know what I’m talking about)… I was afraid because it was late and that nobody would come to help me. It felt like my heart was failing me, I couldn’t breathe. Then I went back to my comfortable hotel with a heater and looked it up, I was scared I thought I had heart problems. I learned that this happens in severely cold temperatures. Then I thought about refugees, and the poor that have to manage a life with this. On that night, the Mayor of NY had ordered all the homeless be taken to shelters even if it was by force. We have refugees that aren’t even invited in or accepted in societies, leave alone forced into safety and shelter. So we’re doing a coat/jacket and blanket drive…. We already have 500 jackets donated by a good, good person and we have a shipping company sponsoring the shipping costs … So, if you have the opportunity and the ability, please please please jump in and help somebody’s heart beat normal.

Want to get involved? Call 050 927 3621 for details. 

winter coat drive

Gaza Camp

In December, 2015 we returned to Jordan to perform and lead circus arts workshops for the children residing in the Gaza Refugee Camp in Jerash. Truly an incredible weekend of laughter and play! We can’t wait to return in the new year.

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Autism Smiles UAE

We were very excited to launch Autism Smiles UAE last month! It’s a comedy club for youth on the spectrum though it is open to children with other special needs. Students learned an array of circus skills, musical comedy, joke telling, physical comedy routines, laughter yoga, magic and more.

The program is completely free and lead by Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed along with assistant teachers and volunteers to ensure personal attention for each student. The 5 week workshop ended with a fun graduation ceremony and a relaxed “informance” where the students got to show off some of their new skills for their families.

If you’d like to sign your son/daughter up for the next round beginning Mid-May please email us at If you have a talent you’d like to share with these wonderful kids, do let us know and we’d be happy to have you as a guest artist.

Special thanks to Ali, Gabi, Abel, Ayesha, Uditi and guest artists Rachel, Preba, Cari for volunteering your time, energy and passion. The kids really loved it!!

Huge thanks to Barakat – Fresh and Easy for their endless support. They have sponsored fresh fruit juices and salads for every event we’ve organized for over two years now. We adore you!

Here are a few wonderful memories….

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Joy to Syrian Refugee Camps: A weekend Comedy Tour

Joy to Syrian Refugee Camps: A weekend Comedy Tour
By Mina Liccione

On December 3, 2014 we headed back to Jordan. It was my birthday that weekend and I wanted to spend it doing what I love; making people laugh and giving back with my husband Ali. We planned a vigorous schedule to ensure we reached as many children as possible during our visit. Our mission was to bring joy and laughter to the children living in the Za’atari and Azraq camps by means of a ten show and ten workshop marathon in one weekend.

Day 1: Joy to Azraq Camp

We were picked up in Amman at 8:30 am. It took approximately one hour to get to the camp. Azraq Camp is the home to over 10,000 Syrian refugees and is split into ten sections. We were set to visit five locations that day offering one workshop and one performance at each. Our CWC Activity Days were held inside tented units that act as children’s community centers run by Mercy Corp. and Unicef.

We were greeted with open arms. The staff, and teachers, were very kind and excited to have us there. The regular staff at these areas are trained refugees living in the camp. They took part in the workshops and clapped along during the shows.

Our performance was a physical comedy show complete with classic slapstick, tap dance, body percussion, musical bells, newspaper gag, audience interaction and participation. The dialogue was in Arabic, though I threw in some English words. The movements were exaggerated, the bigger the gesture, or prat fall, the louder they laughed.

We were happily surprised to see some of the Sahab Camp kids, from our last visit, there! They have since been moved to this camp and were very excited to see us. Some even reminded us what we were wearing, and the dance moves we taught them, the last time. The kids loved the show and had A LOT of energy during the performing arts workshops. Spirits and enthusiasm remained very high throughout the day.

Day 2: Joy to Za’atri Camp

We had heard a great deal about Za’atari Camp. It has almost 100,000 residents and is the second largest city in Jordan. Yes, it’s a city! When we drove up to the camp, there was intense security checking our badges and confirming the purpose of our visit. The camp was massive and is split into twelve districts just like The Hunger Games minus the hunger games. We drove down a Main Street that had clothing shops, grocery stores, gadgets, household items, hair salons, you name it! It was very active and busy.

Upon arriving to the children’s gated area, we were taken to a large trailer where our festivities would take place. Many people warned us that the kids would be unruly and aggressive. I have to say, it was quite the opposite!

Due to the high volume, we stayed in one section the entire day. We performed all five shows and five workshops there rotating between large groups of children. As the kids waited for their turn, they entertained themselves in the playground.

The main teacher for that particular community center was a lovely Syrian woman who also lived in the Camp. Her two kids were with her. Her daughter was six years old and her son, one year old. She carried him around as she participated in the workshop all while assisting hundreds of kids despite the fact she had one arm. She was strong, bold, creative and wore a huge smile on her face. She stayed with us all day and said she looked forward to continuing the creative work started. I was very moved by her courageous spirit, playfulness and love for the kids.

Throughout the day we started to notice a few of the same kids kept sneaking in with the next group. Then at the end of the session the two girls said to us “We want to stay again.” So we told them they could be our assistants. They took this seriously. They helped us re-set our props for the next rounds, move the table and chair back to their show positions and even helped seat the kids as they entered.

For the fifth, and final show of that day, a bunch of other repeat attendees snuck in because they heard it was the last performance. At this point they knew the show by heart so we decided to include them. The show had evolved into being all about them. It was beautiful and we could tell that it meant so much to them to be able to be on stage with us. My husband and I are both good improvisers and throughout the last show kept finding new moments to include different kids and see where the comedy took us. It was magical, in the moment, organic, hilarious and can never be repeated again.

After packing up our equipment, we quickly realized we weren’t ready to leave just yet. So, we headed to the playground to clown around with the kids. They also gave us a tour of the community area which included an arts and crafts trailer for the girls and an activity trailer for the boys. There was also a football field that they were very proud of. I’m not sure who had more fun kicking the ball, the boys or Ali?

Saying farewell was the most difficult part of the trip. They all wanted hugs and photos with their tiny peace signing fingers held high in the air. They would pose until you snapped the shot then run over to see how it looked.

We left with very full hearts. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a kid, is simply let them be a kid and join in the fun! Let them play, laugh, jump, cheer, dance, run, clap and of course, be silly! As we drove away all we could think about was “When can we come back? Let’s plan our next visit…”

The entire tour was humbling and heartwarming. It was an honor to be able to bring some joy to these camps and to be welcomed so graciously. Ali and I will cherish each moment and can’t wait to return in January, inshAllah.

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Eid Celebration

On October 2, 2014 we had the great privilege of organizing a fun filled show, dance party and Eid celebration for the wonderful kids, and staff, of SENSES Center for children with special needs.

We would like to thank our lovely volunteers and guest musicians – Fabian MartinNikhil Raj Uzgare and James Casaki. Lastly, a shout out to our friends at Barakat for their added love, sponsorship and continued support.

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