Nikolett Puskas, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
The project addressed public wellbeing in Beirut, which is now more crucial than ever before. The purpose was to raise awareness on health and wellbeing, provide informal education and practical skills. The aim was to engage local communities for group activities, addressing physical and mental wellbeing in public spaces (accessibility), raising awareness on the opportunities they do not necessarily realise, and the importance of wellbeing, especially in their current extremely challenging circumstances.
The objectives were community building (and tightening the already existing bonds), teaching people methods and opportunities to look after their wellbeing individually and on a community level, reveal public spaces they have access to but unaware of (the notion of ‘public space’ is highly contested in Lebanon).
The project was carried out in April-May 2021, throughout the two months we facilitated four workshops every week. These were free sessions, primarily based on Muay Thai, and sport movements / body awareness including small fun games whilst exercising. We primarily targeted two Beiruti communities, in Geitawi and Mar Mikhael (amongst the neighbourhoods that were most affected by the Beirut blasts) to make a positive impact on their mental and physical wellbeing, especially important after the blasts.
Participants had fun, learnt new skills and the structure of exercising - including the importance and methods of warm-up at the beginning and stretching at the end. They learnt methods and tools to practice safely in the future, either individually or self-organise into small groups beyond the project timeline if they wish to do so, encouraging long-term sustainability. A short project video (https://www.instagram.com/p/CR6Qe1vgymN/) summarises the mood, shows some of the exercises conducted and aims to speak for itself in terms of impact on participants and the delivering project team too. I believe we managed to deliver something beautiful and make a difference in the everyday lives of people who participated, at an extremely challenging era in Lebanese history. We faced some cultural and logistical challenges which we managed to tackle as a team of collaborators. We aimed at openness and inclusivity, so anyone from the two neighbourhoods - and beyond, could attend.
This project was building on existing research to make real-world impact, working with communities based around the questions of what is ‘the good life’ and wellbeing, and providing feasible methods to make a difference and enable people to improve their own wellbeing – in an inclusive manner, based on informal and accessible learning opportunities (i.e. free sessions in public spaces). Thus, project addressed notions of deeper levels of public participation and the right to the city.
The expected benefits for the public were: awareness and mindfulness on the importance of physical and mental wellbeing and simple, easy, cheap ways to look after it, little daily practices to make a big difference. Creating a sense of community within a community at a time when it is critically important. Providing people with knowledge and hands-on tools to look after their mental and physical health.
The main collaborator who was the head coach in delivering these workshops was Kru Yai Rocky Kiblawi from Shogun Beirut.
This project was generously supported by a Beacon Bursary grant by UCL Culture’s Engagement Team.
Wellbeing, Public Space