The Return to Camp Zeitouna - Every Child Deserves To Play

The Creativity Hub’s journey with the Karam Foundation began last June after coming across an article in The Huffington Post entitled "Every Child Deserves To Play". Karam runs a wellness programme called “Zeitouna” for Syrian children displaced by the war. After initially deciding the cause was worthy of our annual Christmas donation, Rory was asked to take part in Zeitouna as a mentor.

Rory travelled to Al Salam School on the Turkish/Syrian border in December last year, and decided to return again last month for the summer Zeitouna camp in the town of Reyhanli. The school has 420 pupils in grades 1 to 12. The return to the school saw Rory and the other mentors receive a warm welcome from students and staff alike. As this was the second camp at the school, the teachers were better prepared for the craziness that Zeitouna brings and had their classes prepped for the value the week would bring.Upon asking one teacher, Mahmood, what impact the previous visit had left, he replied that the mentors and workers arrived at the coldest point of the year and helped the children and staff get through it with laughter and play. He also added that the children remained upbeat and more engaged after the volunteers left. Mahmood welcomed the return, as he and his fellow teachers were desperate for tips and advice on teaching in their unique environment. For these young students from a war torn environment, the normal teaching methods don’t apply.

Over 30 mentors arrived at the school for a week of various workshops, joined by translators and dental, hygiene and trauma teams. One author, who wrote a book on the experience of a child in Syria, asked the children how it made them feel and could they relate. She found that these children read a lot more into the story than she had previously experienced. One child pointed out an illustration of a boy sitting in a dark corner and said he was in prison, which was what the writer was trying to convey.

The classes and workshops gave students a chance to experience a wide range of activities. The children took part in an architecture class where they drew out floor plans of the homes they left behind in Syria. A quilting workshop produced quilts to be sold back in the US to raise funds for the foundation. Journalling gave the children an opportunity to record their voices and stories, while pinhole photography allowed the children to see output of their efforts after a few hours. Sport was also a major part of the week, with boxercise, soccer and basketball taking place.

Rory delivered 18 sessions of storytelling workshops over his four days at Zeitouna, working closely with translators. He would introduce himself as being from Ireland, asking the class did they know where that was. He pulled out a map and showed them how far away his country was, and how far he had come to tell stories with them. He pointed out that he made games for a living and asked what their favourite games were. There were shouts of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty in nearly every workshop. It’s important to realise that these children do not come from poor backgrounds, most come from previously middle class homes that they had to leave because of the war.

Rory would explain Rory's Story Cubes and then tell an over the top story so that the children could try to understand without relying on the translator. Splitting up into groups, they were challenged to come up with their own story and tell it to the class. The younger age groups drew their stories. They used Storysheets to record their stories, or take down the icons to make a story at home if the workshop ran out of time. The students were initially embarrassed to tell their story to the class, but it was made a point of in each class. These are children who are not seen or heard often, so within their peer group they were now able to stand up and tell their stories, mostly of good over evil. One boy delivered a particularly poignant story of a man who had lost his ID card and needed to travel back over the border to Syria to get it, but knew he could not because he would be shot.

Along with the positive changes in the children, the school itself had also experienced some changes. Work had begun on the badly needed second floor of the school building, security cameras had been installed and teachers now had the use of projectors in their classrooms.

Even with all the good going on with the school and the children, Rory also experienced some sad conversations. In chatting with a group of grade 12 girls, they revealed that after they finished their final exams there was nowhere else for them to go. To continue their education in a Turkish school, they would have to undergo 2 to 3 months of Turkish language lessons which most families cannot afford. Alternatively, they had the option to travel abroad for school, but again this was even more expensive. It was sad to see that the generation that can rebuild Syria are already falling through the cracks.

In the children’s chaotic environment, the teachers and administration staff try to maintain normality in school. However, it is difficult to achieve this and learn when both the students and teachers are traumatised. One teacher witnessed 20 of his students in Syria die in a chemical weapons attack. These teachers are trying to use their conventional methods to teach in an environment where life is erratic and uncertain. In most of Rory’s morning workshops of five and six year olds, there was someone falling asleep at their desks. Other students have missed one to two years of education due to the war. The staff are striving to find different ways to teach, and so help both teachers and students to become learners.

At the school, the children were a mix between highly engaged and relatively withdrawn. Rory was struck by the willingness of most to engage with strangers and share their limited food. Even though the volunteers were warned not to eat anything, he accepted plums and used them to teach juggling. At one point the water supply went down and Rory and the volunteers shared whatever water they had with the children, as all they had was carried in their small bags.

These children come from a mix of homes. Some lived in houses or apartments, while others lived in old shop fronts with shutters. Most had lost family member, siblings or parents and are still persevering. They are a testament to adaptability, but that is not a justification for this all to keep going. In one conversation with a boy, Rory asked him about his family and his home. He said he had four brothers, one who was fighting in the war. With his home, he can remember it but can’t remember the details like where the living room and kitchen were.

One girl received a set of Rory’s Story Cubes during the winter Zeitouna and had been using them ever since. She used them for drawing and telling stories and they helped her to get ideas and use her imagination. She plans to write a story about her experience that adults will read, so that they can feel and understand what it’s like for Syrians. Rory asked her is she could say anything to children in Ireland what would it be. She replied, “I hate Reyhanli and I want to go home.”

The trip left us with questions on how we can be most useful with the skills we have. Teachers in Al Salam school need more ways to teach with Rory’s Story Cubes and tips on how to get the best use out of the resources they have. Before Rory left for Reyhanli, we posted on social media asking for any advice our followers may have for the teachers. Teachers in the school immediately went home and looked up the links and YouTube videos that came in response.

The purpose of Rory’s volunteering and the Zeitouna camp was to bring a glimmer of hope and joy into the children’s and teacher’s life for that short time. They left them confident in the memory that others around the world care.

Monday, 07 July 2014

10 Year Anniversary of the Idea for Rory's Story Cubes


It was this week ten years ago that Rory had the idea for the Metacube™. He was using an invention technique called 'Advanced Civilisation' developed by Win Wenger. He began describing it to me in great detail. Our first baby was weeks old at the time and I was suffering from severe baby-brain. I asked him (as politely as a sleep-deprived, first-time mother can) to please prototype it so I could understand how it worked. And he did.


We have many ideas, most remain in our heads. The act of making a simple prototype to explain your idea to someone else can be the difference between an idea remaining just that or it becoming a real 'thing'.

Within a few months the Metacube™ had evolved into Rory's Story Cubes® and we began our first small production run. What a journey it has been.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

When An Article Can Inspire - Camp Zeitouna


In mid June, the Huffington Post published an article on their website that inspired us to get involved with a truly worthwhile project. The piece was entitled "Every Child Deserves To Play".

The article, by Ehsan Zaffar, described Camp Zeitouna - an arts and sports programme for displaced Syrian children run by the Karam Foundation. The project endeavours to counter traumatic factors in these children’s lives by restoring some semblance of regularity and by continuing their vital education. The concept is simple - that every child deserves to play. The camp aimed to fulfil this concept by building playgrounds and running workshops that allowed the children to express their creativity and imagination.

Camp Zeitouna spoke to The Creativity Hub as it is a programme that fits with our own mission. This being that everybody, young and old, should have the opportunity to play, especially children. Every year we choose one cause to sponsor and, for 2013, we decided that the cause would be Zeitouna.

We got in contact with the organisers at the Karam Foundation and offer a donation of 1500 sets of Rory's Story Cubes, to aid the children's workshops. In response, the Foundation informed us that they did not believe in handouts and suggested that we run storytelling workshops as part of the Winter Camp. In exchange for taking part in the workshop, each child would receive their own set of Rory's Story Cubes. We jumped at this chance to work directly with the children.

Rory travelled to the Al Salam Syrian School in Reyhanli, located on the Turkish/Syrian border in early December. He spent 5 days using Story Cubes to personally work with children of all ages, encouraging them to tell stories. Rory joined 30 other mentors from all over the world who ran many different workshops. You can watch a video of Rory's trip and experience at the camp below.

Rory at Zeitouna 2013 from The Creativity Hub on Vimeo.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Rory's Story Cubes® Study Group - using story cubes as an ice breaker.


In an earlier Blog post we wrote about the Rory's Story Cubes® Study Group in Tokyo, Japan. 

Comprising around 40 members from diverse backgrounds, the group develop and share new uses for Rory’s Story Cubes which can be applied in the areas of Human Development, Teaching, Facilitation and Nursery activities. 

Mr. Toshihiko Hagiwara is a member of the Study Group and also a lecturer at Tohoku Gakuin University. He has devised a very effective way to use Rory's Story Cubes as an ice breaker at his seminars for Junior students. Each student picks two story cubes. Using the first cube as a prompt, they must introduce and describe themselves to the group. The second cube is then used to help them express their goals and aspirations for the course. Here are the students and Mr. Hagiwara with the cubes they chose, and the thoughts that they shared with the group.

  We will share more Ways To Play  from the Study Group soon. Send your own Ways To Play to us, we're   always listening.  

Thursday, 05 September 2013

Rory's Story Cubes® - engaging children in creative activities.


It’s nearly September, and time for children all over the world to prepare to embark on a new educational year. 

We thought this would be the perfect time to share some ingenious ways in which parents and teachers have been using Rory’s Story Cubes to engage children, and spark creativity both at home and in the classroom. 

Over in the USA, Catherine Schembri   has found a way to help her twin sons with their creative writing assignments. Catherine home schools her sons, who have Aspergers Syndrome and can sometimes find creative writing assignments to be a challenge. She uses Rory’s Story Cubes to help the boys introduce descriptive words into their writing. 

In this short video, one of the boys tells a wonderfully descriptive story using his storycubes. 

Also in the USA, Tavia Fuller Armstrong uses Rory’s Story Cubes to help her son The Reluctant Writer smash through his writer’s block. Although he was already a competent verbal storyteller, Tavia’s son found sitting down and writing his stories to be a challenge. Using Rory’s Story Cubes, Tavia was able to help her son overcome this problem and he went on to win a story writing prize. 

In China, Jen writes a Blog   about the challenges of teaching boys in particular. Jen wanted to get her male students excited about writing. She devised a way to combine Rory’s Story Cubes with the children’s vocabulary cards and connect images between the icons and the words.The boys’ enthusiasm was fired and they established characters, settings and conflicts for their tales and even added titles at the end. 

I Teach Boys

And in the UK, Priya Desal   has devised a way to use Rory’s Story Cubes for storytelling and also to help children learn sentence construction skills and vocabulary at home. 

Friday, 30 August 2013