Q&A with Lang Opportunity Scholar Ferial Berjawi ’19
For her Lang Opportunity Scholarship project over the summer, Ferial Berjawi ’19 designed and ran the BetterFly Camp, a six-week program that brought 30 young refugee girls in Lebanon together to discuss body image, legal rights, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health.
The program, which Berjawi discussed with the Arabic news source FutureTV and on Journal Post, targeted Syrian and Palestinian refugee girls in Lebanon between ages 10 and 15. It emerged from Berjawi’s personal experiences and motives.
“I’ve always found myself surrounded by broken women who never received sufficient awareness to determine their own paths,” says the economics and peace & conflict studies special major from Beirut. “I developed the program to empower these girls to become the pioneers of change in their societies.”
Berjawi took a research-based approach to the program and used an array of innovative methods piloted by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Danish Refugee Council and the Women’s Refugee Commission. The Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, which awarded Berjawi the scholarship, lauded her project as a great example of the impact that students can have around the world through engaged scholarship.
Back at Swarthmore this fall, Berjawi discussed her experiences with and vision for the BetterFly Camp.
How would you describe the work you did this summer with the BetterFly Camp?
Basically, it was a series of psychosocial support sessions that had to do with early marriage, gender-based violence, positive body image–also legal rights, discrimination, power, and positionality. It was just basically addressing the different layers of these girls’ identities and helping them start thinking about who they are and who they want to be in the future. All of them have witnessed [gender-based violence]. All of them have seen it, or might have experienced it. That’s not their fault. They’re not to blame. They’re only the victims, even though they are victims with a lot of agency. So we made sure we were not taking that agency away from them. They should be allowed to find their own agency, look within themselves, and find their own power to rise above social constraint and determine their own paths for the future. So it was more inspiration and empowerment than it was about knowledge.
How did the idea for the project originate?
I grew up with everything that is going on. Just growing up and seeing it, living under the patriarchy, I experienced the sexism, the misogyny, the objectification, the dehumanization of women all the time. So that was part of it. But I never really knew how bad it was until I did an internship with the Danish Refugee Council the summer after my sophomore year. There, I worked closely with the gender-based violence program coordinator [on a large-scale empowerment/education program]. So I thought, “How about I do a similar initiative, but with a different approach?” I thought it would be more effective so the girls could open us up to even more, since it was a smaller group.
What was the Lang Center’s role in the project?
I got the Lang Opportunity Scholarship in December of my sophomore year, and they basically funded my internship that summer with the Danish Refugee Council. I don’t think I would have been able to do it otherwise. They’ve been there, backing me up, all the way. My context is very particular to Lebanon, and even though it may not be their area of expertise, bridging our knowledge together, we were able to make it work.
Is there anything that news excerpts or blurbs tend to miss when describing the big picture of your project? Moments or details that get left out?
There are little victory moments when you’re like, “Yes! This is working!” The final celebration is one example of that. We had our sessions and at the end, I was like, “You know what, girls? Let’s have a final celebration where you present something.” I thought it’d just be an hour. They’d come, they’d get their certificates, and that’d be it. But they wanted to perform. So in a matter of three weeks, we were able to choreograph a dance—two dances, actually—and a play. The parents loved it. After the celebration, they came up to me thanking me for the project. And the girls—five of them were crying their eyes out, so I just started crying, too. It’s one of those moments that are very genuine and very real. I learned more from them than they learned from me, I think.
What are your future plans—for the project or yourself?
Someone actually reached out to me from an American NGO. The director learned about my work from social media, and they want to do another project cycle over winter break. They’re completely funding a new cycle, and I’m going to partner with them on it. And for the future, I’m looking into social impact consulting and nonprofit work. Last summer was super rewarding, but you can do all these interventions and do all this nonprofit work, but their lives will ultimately be shaped by the socioeconomic and political circumstances that they live in. So I want to be working on a more policy level to change the framework itself.