July 20, 2017 (Duhok, Iraq) - This summer, sophomore dance student Lydia Mathis spent a month in war-torn northern Iraq, helping refugees combat trauma through dance. CNN's Great Big Story documented her experience and recently featured the video on their website. You can watch it below.
Mathis, who began studying dance at the age of three, worked alongside a trauma therapist to introduce modern and ballet dance to Yazidi refugees at the Khanke Refugee Camp in Dohuk, Iraq.
Most of the families in these camps have been displaced because of ISIS and deal with depression on a daily basis. Away from their homes and communities, many of the displaced have nothing else to do, but sit in their tents all day. An outlet like dance could be a vital turning point for many who are struggling.
Mathis admitted that she was nervous about how the classes would be received, but says the girls "dived in" to the experience. Working here with refugees has been an incredible learning experience, said Mathis. I have been able to really see how they've picked up the movement. and all of them are so brilliant and so receptive to the class material. Every single class that they come to, they always come in with big smiles and a willingness to try something new.
She has been to Iraq before to visit her sister who works for Samaritan's Purse, an American aid organization. After her first visit, her love for refugees, specifically the Yazidi people, blossomed, and Mathis saw an opportunity to serve a specific need through her God-given abilities.
Camp psychologists say that most recover quickly and the key to their improvement is mainly to establish a semblance of everyday routines. Mathis, who is the first dancer to bring this kind of therapy to these people, said she is seeing a difference. Dance, as a form of therapy, is healing to the mind, body and soul. She believes that with every move and smile, the Yazidi people are regaining joy and hope in the midst of a war zone.