Case Study

Wael El Helou on Lands Work, Theatre and Refugee Integration – CRR Global – Podcast

Wael El Helou on Lands Work, Theatre and Refugee Integration – CRR Global – Podcast

In a podcast hosted by CRR Global, Katie Churchman interviewed our MD and former Director of CRR Lebanon, Wael el Helou, and discussed how he used ORSC tools

to help open up a dialogue between Lebanon students and Syrian Refugees. Lebanon has the largest per capita population of Syrian refugees in the world. As of 2020, the Lebanese government estimates their country hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees.



During this episode, you can learn more about the concept of World Work, which embraces the idea that we are continuously impacting the world, whether we are conscious of it or not. Whilst World Work can involve big acts of altruism and community spirit, it always starts with self. Across the course of this episode, you will be hearing from Wael how he used ORSC tools to serve the wider community.


Podcast Transcript:

KC – Katie Churchman

WH – Wael El Helou

KC – Hello and welcome back to the Relationship Matters podcast, World Works special. In this collection of bonus episodes, we’re looking at the concept of World Work which embraces the idea that we are continuously impacting the world whether we are conscious of it or not. Whilst World Work can involve big acts of altruism and community spirit, it always starts with the self. Across the course of these four bonus episodes, you’ll be hearing from four world workers from across the globe, who’ve all used ORSC tools in very different ways to serve their wider communities. In this bonus episode I’m talking with Wael El Helou. Wael is a director at Trace and the former director of CRR Lebanon. From managing one corporate transformation to another, Weal has lead a multidisciplinary corporate career that’s combined with an eloquent passion to make a difference, has led him to co-found trace and to dedicate his life to making people and organizations stronger than their challenges. In this episode, Wael discusses how he used ORSC tools to help open up a dialogue between Lebanese students and Syrian refugees. SO, without further ado, I give you Wael El Helou talking about his World Work project and using ORSC in the face of poverty, war and political instability. Well, Wael, it’s an absolute privilege to have you on the Relationship Matters podcast.


WH – Thank you.


KC – Before we dive into the specifics of your World Work project, I was wondering whether we could start with the idea of World Work, what does World Work mean to you Wael?


WH – Well, at the time, and I think that’s something that sticks with you after going through that kind of work and being part of the Cold War where everyone is doing the same, everybody is stretching their minds in different directions, trying to find the best possible achievement that you can think of for that time and to carry forward afterwards. I think what got stuck with me is that that constant state of being on the lookout for things you can do to make things better around you. So, that’s, when I think about World Work that’s what comes to mind. And, it’s like you drink the Kool Aid and you’re constantly wired in that direction, starting at the time where you start working on your World Work, on your project, on your World Work project, and from there on it’s just, it just doesn’t leave you, it’s constant. It’s there all the time.


KC – Brilliant, drinking the Kool Aid, it sounds like it’s something so much more than just, say a coaching job, it’s a way of being that you step into.


WH – I think it changes the way you look at things around you. And you get that belief that using these tools there’s something you can do to impact those systems in a way, even if that way is not what you intended because this is what they wanted to happen, but it doesn’t matter – at least with whatever dream you had, it sparked off how you start looking at your potential impact on the systems that you are part of or that you become adjacent to or that you encounter during your day-to-day, whether it’s at work or at home or with friends.


KC – So would you say then that ORSC has completely transformed the way that you view you world? Not just your work but your world, your family, your friends.


WH – Definitely. Definitely, definitely.


KC – Well I’m very excited for you to share with our listeners your World Work project in particular, because it’s very unique and, yeah, take it away! I don’t think I could put it in better words myself.


WH – So, first, the idea started with a much bigger dream than it ended up with. Although, it’s not the size of the dream that changed that, actually the search for an applicable ground for this to happen. The idea, so just some context, we have a huge number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon that are flooding in because Syria is all over, most of Lebanon is surrounded by Syria. So, when the war started in Syria, refugees started flooding into the country and we ended up with almost more than a million people, knowing the population of Lebanon is 4 million, more than a million, so more than 25% off the Lebanese population became Syrian refugees, and that started creating a lot of problems for a lot of people. For the hosting communities, for the refugees themselves, and we’re talking about every kind of problem. Whether it’s economic or social or even on the human rights side, that was the key motivator, was to look at this relationship, this system, whatever this system was, even when people knew the people from before, tensions were created and a lot of problems. And the government, at one point in time, started kind of creating camps for the refugees and started making sure that they don’t, for example, making sure that the kids don’t mix with Lebanese kids at schools, so they started having two different timings, some kids come AM, some kids come PM, just to ensure there are no serious conflicts that are taken out of context to a bigger or wider or uncontrollable context that could impact the whole country. So, there was a lot of tension happening on that front. So the idea was, or the question was, how can we support that relationship in a way that facilitates it, that eases it, that makes it – that normalises it? So, why can’t I deal with a Syrian refugee the same way that I would deal with a Lebanese citizen. So, why can’t I just deal with people as people rather than whatever other label I have for them? So that was the first spark that made all this thing into the thinking process. What I ended up designing was a, what I called an Indited Plans Work through improvisation through theatre. So, through improv sessions. It was a series of workshops, some of them happened, or some of them were meant to happen with Lebanese students alone. Some of them were meant to happen with Syrian students alone. And some of them were meant to gather both to co-create something with each other. And there was a process that I followed for that. Now I chose students because I tried for a really long time to convince communities to work together using local governments or using municipalities or stuff like that, but it was almost impossible on both ends because the Syrian refugees were not, did not want to be seen as co-operating with the Lebanese, being labelled under that. And the other way around was true as well. So, there was fear in that place and that fear made that mission not possible at the time with the connections that I had. So, I started looking for other connections and I started looking for other, I don’t want to use markets, other segments that I could work with, and then came the idea of OK, students are more agile, more flexible in the sense that they might be more accepting for some of the things that would challenge the older generations or of bigger responsibility, whatever the reason, that could stand behind that resistance. And I found a school where Syrians and Lebanese were actually studying during the same time and it was somewhere a few hours south of Lebanon. And I got the agreement from the school to work with these groups in the school theatre. So that’s how it started. Now, the project consistent of a lands work applied to the theatre. So the first workshop, we, I just got a friend of mine, a theatre director, and she gave improvisation techniques, she taught a few things here and there regarding theatre, regarding stuff like that. And both groups were separated at this time, none of them knew that I was doing anything with the other group so they were completely separated. I worked with them in different timings, different days, to make sure that they don’t get biased by anything that they could interpret in any way other than intended. The second workshop was about create a play where you advertise your country. So, here Lebanese, what’s beautiful about Lebanon, what should we celebrate about Lebanon? What would you miss if you left it if you were Lebanese, and what do you miss, it you’re Syrian, what do you miss from where you actually came from. And, again, both groups did those workshops separately. That was the second workshop. The third workshop was about imagining a life in another country. So, how do whatever you call as others live there life. What do they do for a living? What do their families look like? What does their leisure time look like? How does it feel to live their life? And again, both of them were done separately. So that exploration of, or imagining what it would be about the other person – this is where everybody loaded it with their own pre-conceived ideas and their own, whatever they heard, whatever they thought. Although, what was really interesting, and I remember because this is where we, this is part of what we’re able to execute because we were not able to finish the whole thing but up to this point we were able to do this and what was really interesting to see, where the conflict, it was kind of a, because it was improvisation it was lands work that we were doing but there were a lot of other tools that were there, even if we did not intend them to be there. So people had voices and they were speaking out their mind and in different scenes people would create an argument around no, this is a pre-conceived idea vs yes, this is what my dad says or… So, it was kind of deep democracy process that was happening without us intending it to be a deep democracy process! And because it was an improvisation, anything that followed was built on all these things that people were talking about. Now, the fourth workshop, Lebanese people watched what Syrians said in their play, so they actually watched the play, and once they watched the play of what the Syrians advertised about Syria, they watched what they thought about Syria. SO it was kind of, this is what they say about their country, this is what we said about their country. And then, there was the facilitated session of do you notice what are the prejudices that came out and all of these questions that would eventually get to some alignment around these two, and then once that session was done, the following workshop was to create a new play about Syria and then would imagine living there as Syrians, now that they know what they know they created another play, other than the one that they created initially, but that was now more blended with whatever discoveries they had along the way. And the same process was followed with the Syrians.


KC – So that final land is a co-creation of both of the plays?


WH – Yes, there’s one more, there’s one more actually because up till now, both groups haven’t met yet. The first time they met, the fourth workshop, where they met through the screen. So they were told that there’s this group of students and they know them but this group of students created this about their country and this is what you created about your country. And the other way around as well, so that’s the first time they see them but they haven’t yet met in one room. Now, the fifth workshop, the Lebanese watched the clip about them, so the second one, and the questions were what did they get right, all of that kind of facilitation for whatever they saw, but here the difference is both of them are in separate rooms, at the same time, on the same premises, watching the clips and having the conversations on their own but during the same time. Once that facilitation was done then the two groups come together and they co-design whatever liveable common land is and how can they be supported etc etc etc, and what they are going to do to actually make that happen. So, that’s when they are brought together to co-design whatever land they think they can both live in, and put a plan at their level, at their school level, student, friend, parent level of what they can actually do to make that land, their common land, our land if you want, happen. So that was the project.


KC – Wow, that’s incredible! There’s so much to unpack there. I think the blending of theatre with lands work, what was the impact of that do you think? Bringing those tools from the world of theatre in?


WH – Well the, what I have experienced in theatre, part of what I do is I do a lot of public speaking. I coach on public speaking so I work with people in the corporate world to help them unlock their fears primally and their pre-conceived ideas and limitations around whether we can speak or not, and then to help them learn how to actually speak. So a lot of that I have discovered, and when I built my curriculum for coaching, I realised that when people are playing a role that is not theirs, they’re much more comfortable than when they are playing their role with all the threats and all the chains and all the should and shouldn’t dos that comes with that person. So, I’ve discovered that taking them out of that person, into another role that is not theirs and where things are allowed, unlocks huge things. Huge, huge, huge things. So the impact I think was exactly that because they allowed what society prevented them from. They allowed for a more real conversation, a more real blending, a more real interaction and giving and taking from each other, that couldn’t have been allowed in a different setting. Especially that society prevented this kind of work. So, there was no body to say ok, let’s build these communities together, let’s try to work on the systems, let’s try to make things better. That was not part of the things were welcome even. Because there were a lot of tensions, a lot of politics and a lot of, millions of things that actually prevented that from happening in society outside that theatre, so what theatre does – did, actually, was break those limits. So you could actually do whatever you would have done if things were not chained like that.


KC – That’s so fascinating Wael. I think I mentioned to you on another call that I have a background in acting and sort of from when I bring the idea of performance or acting or improv into a workshop, people freak out. That’s not me, oh I don’t do that kind of thing. Because there is a sense that acting is putting a character on top of who you are, as we know what really good actors do is they stretch into a different part of themselves. Maybe a part that’s very very unfamiliar. And it sounds like what you were doing there, you were unlocking those parts of self that are there, they’re just not allowed to be, perhaps in the society that they’re in right now, to show up on the surface.


WH – That’s true, that’s true.


KC – So fascinating. And do you find the improv piece, how do people embrace that initially?


WH – The approach was, wasn’t called names so that’s to start with. And then when we started doing what we did it was comic a lot of time, so the whole field, the whole energy of the field was light, people were laughing, because at the beginning people were – it was risk free. I am acting with you, we’re both under the same umbrella if I may call that, socialising under our accepted umbrella. So, at the beginning it started easy and these were people who volunteered to come to these workshops. So, we did an ad in the school, sponsored by the school, saying we have theatre, we have a theatre teacher who’s going to work with students who like to create things that eventually could or could not be part of something else at school. So it was a good thing, and I think it was something that worked for us, was that it was the volunteering act rather than a selected group of people that were called to that. So people who came were already comfortable with the idea and it was something that they wanted to explore.


KC – So in the terms of the safety then you created with the two groups, because that’s a very different set up of lands work, what made you decide to do two separate paths and then join the group together at the end?


WH – I think, the main driver for that was to make sure I’m not trying to predict what’s going to happen but, at the same time, I’m ready for the what if things actually go off track. So, I wanted to run away from an earlier conflict than planned, just to make sure that people are prepped for that if that’s going to happen. Because I really didn’t know what was gonna happen. So when I used to sit and brainstorm and think of the things that could go wrong or could go well, there wasn’t – it was always 50/50. So there was always, it was always unpredictable. I don’t know what could happen. So I wanted to make sure that people are prepped in their mind and break some of the chains, some of the pre-conceived ideas and some of the walls they had built around their mind before they come together and they start exploring things with each other. The first time maybe, or the first workshop they were alone, but then they met each other without actually meeting each other. So, they heard what the others were saying but they heard it from the mouth of the people saying it, rather than from the father who told the son, or the mother who they told their son or their daughter. So, they actually met but without being in the room and without the ability of going into the same kind of dialogue that could have been not their own dialogue. So, I wanted to make sure that they get their own voice before moving them on to a possible conflict.


KC – Yeah, they do meet but obviously in different time zones because of the filming. But I guess that’s a really great way of working with some quite intense conflict then, have a soft start up when it comes to that meet up.


WH – Exactly, that was the intention.


KC – And so what was it like for you when that final fifth workshop came along?


WH – So the group that continued the whole five workshops, it was just one group and eventually there was pressure from the parents to stop it so the school just decided to stop. And the group that stayed were not the full group, so we ended up with… I don’t remember the number but really few people from both sides. The feel of seeing these people able to co-create gives the hope that is incredible. And the thing here is, as much as you know that as a coach you need to be at the adjacent between being involved and being involved, the intensity of what was happening draws you in like crazy and there are a lot of things, even when you’re conscious and you’re not impacting what’s happening, you’re just letting it go, but emotionally you are dragged into it and you feel it. So you become kind of a receptor of all the emotions that are happening in there, so it’s not just a thrill. It was a really, highly, seriously emotionally engaging experience, let’s say.


KC – I’m sure, and it sounds like there was some push back against the project, it doesn’t sound like it was without its challenges.


WH – Yeah. And it stopped eventually because things got a lot more complicated afterwards. So, there were a lot of things happening in the real world that actually made the extensions much stronger and much more destructive than what could make that project continue. But the good thing, and when I think about it and when I review now, today I went back and I sat and took some notes and I went back in time to that experience, that happened quite some time ago. But I think the best part of it is you know it works. And you know that whenever there’s an opportunity for it, and whenever, because I think that, I personally believe that the end of every conflict is an opportunity, or when a conflict gets to, whatever end, even if it’s war and someone’s lost and someone’s won, for both parties it’s an opportunity to co-create what they want to do afterwards. Sometimes it ends up being a good thing, sometimes it ends up being the source of another conflict, it doesn’t matter but there’s an opportunity there and every time there’s an opportunity, I think – and people are aware of that opportunity or care to be aware of any opportunity happening around them, this is something that works.


KC – Yeah. So there’s probably a confidence both in terms of the ORSC tools and your ability as a coach.


WH – Well, here it wasn’t about my ability, it was more about trusting the process.


KC – Right, ok.


WH – So here it wasn’t about, so I wasn’t getting more confident because I was able to work with them, I was getting more confident because I saw that even a variation of the tool, just to make it softer at some of the corners, because of whatever was happening, still made it work and the process is something that actually is, when the system becomes aware of itself, it changes. It’s impacted. It becomes something other than whatever it started with. Those realisations, of course, make you indirectly trust the fact that you’re using tools that work and eventually impacts your own confidence. But at that time it had, I don’t think it had anything to do with my confidence in what I was doing because I was just learning how to take baby steps. So, I was with my notes all the time, I was there learning along, but it was more about the confidence that these tools actually can make a huge difference.


KC – And I guess working at that level, I’ve found it interesting just sort of working with different dynamics, so couples to teams to families. And then working with that level, two countries, and seeing the impact – that must be quite powerful to know that these tools can scale the whole way, up and down.


WH – Especially when you live in a  country that is full of conflict.


KC – Yeah. I wonder whether I can slightly divert us down that path there, around whether living in a country of conflict, what was it like stepping back then after your ORSC training with this new lens on the world? Stepping back into Lebanon with that perspective, that mindset.


WH – Like I told you when we started, you start, let’s say, even, so I’ve been- I don’t want to say an activist, but I’ve been part of things that are happening in the country for a long time. And when you see a better future that you try to work on, there are a lot of things that you become aware of regarding the system. What changes is one, you start naming them differently because you start realising that, ah yeah, now I know what this is, I see what this is, I can recognise this pattern, I can recognise this thing that is happening, these taboos or these conflicts that make the oxygen sucked out of the room or things like that. Things that are carried from one generation to another, ghost rules, you see them, you name them differently. And I think the best part of it is, like I told you, you know that Ok some of it you cannot control because things will happen and systems, whether they’re aware or not, whether they’re ignorant or not, whether there… there will be a time, there’s always a time where people see things or realise things or have intentions. And what’s stayed is whenever those intentions will be there in front of me I know what to do.


KC – Ok. So, how had that helped you do you feel in this strange time we’re in right now? That shift.


WH – I think on, so the closest system is always family, friends, work and then you grow that as you live through these current times. I think the consciousness of the web, that before was always invisible but then, I always tell my friends that after ORSC I start looking at people and I never see them just like that, people walking each one on their own, it’s like everybody is tied up to something. And I see them moving with their webs around them. So I think the awareness of the web, whatever that web is holding you too, and your best intentions help you focus not just on yourself because that’s the first thing that happens in crisis, you become the world. You want to survive, you want to make sure that your kids are fed or go to school or are able to get internet so that you can follow up whatever’s happening online. But, when you see that web and you see that there are so many things that matter around you and your part of so many things that matter and you have a role in front of them, it helps you move that mindset not just from a self-focus and a survival instinct focus, to actually being part of something or some things that are all meant, or that you have a role in all of those things that you’re part of to make them succeed, make them live as close as possible to their high dream, whatever that is, or whatever your high dream is for them.


KC – I love that visual, awareness of the web. I’ve just got these pictures of people with all these strings attached to them.


WH – That’s how I see them!


KC – Really, it’s amazing because quite often we do think of ourselves as individuals, we step into relationships but we’re always in a relationship, whether we want it or not, and everyone we meet is always in those relationships too, and in a relationship with us.


WH – Whether you want it or not and whether you think it matters or not, it impacts you. So even when you think it doesn’t matter and it’s not important or it’s not a priority now or whatever you think, even that thought about that relationship, I think, impacts you. So we are always in relationships, whether we want it or not, but also we are always impacted by relationships, whether we think they matter or not. Sometimes the impact is not something that we’re aware of but it’s there, it’s not something we decide about.


KC – There’s like a two way awareness there because then obviously the person in front of you, say they’re being difficult, you can be aware of all the different people they might have interreacted with that day, that month, and the things going on in their life. And then also, as you said it was like seeing that your surrounded and connected by all these people and your life is bigger than perhaps just yourself, it starts to work in that two way, and very powerful way of seeing the world, I’m sure.


WH – The one time someone taught me the difference between being a real victim versus being victimised by whatever made you a real victim, so a true victim is not necessarily victimised. So that accountability bit that we always talk to people about and that we always try to awaken, whether it’s in the children or in the friends or in the colleagues, I think that’s huge. If you become aware that you’re impacted and you impact and you think you want to get that on a short leash as frequently as you can, it does change your life.


KC – Love that.


WH – It’s tiring! But, it’s harder than just surrendering to the fact that yes, I am a victim, see why I’m a victim, it’s much harder. But it does change a lot of things about you. I think one of the things we miss today is actually someone who comes with accountability of understanding that I am, I do belong to a bigger system than just myself. Even if it’s a crisis, even if whatever it is.


KC – Yeah, it’s fascinating Weal. I’m wondering if we can return to your World Work project sort of in the bigger picture as we’re there and just ask you what was the sort of biggest learning, now, sitting where you are and looking back on it, what’s the biggest learning from that experience, working with those students in the way that you did?


WH – Actually, I haven’t decided. I thought you were going to ask me that question and I haven’t decided if the learning is you cannot force it, or if the learning is you know it works, push for it. I don’t know which one of them is actually the learning. But I sit in between because I know that even if you believe it will work and you see the greater good in whatever you’re trying to do, not force it. So, but again, you have a role to play and if you can push for it then why not. Just, don’t wait for it forever. So, I’m kind of [laughs] in the middle of that.


KC – I’m always navigating that line between like being too involved and not being involved at all.


WH – Exactly.


KC – So do you have any next steps or thoughts around how you might use this site more the way that you did in your World Work project?


WH – I think, it’s not just about let’s say, work and society. It could also work for any heated conflict, wherever that heated conflict is. And the fact that this whole thing was designed to be an unintrusive kind of lands work and a less aggressive kind of change or facilitation of change, whatever that change eventually ends up being, something that can be used either because it’s fun, because it is a lot of fun, or because it is something that can get people to overcome their limits whilst they don’t realise they have overcome their limits. Well that’s what I realised from having gone through that and from taking it further than just ok, just that particular project and… so, I’ve applied it in the corporate world for fun primarily, not for heated conflicts, but it was as fun as, because what we did in the corporate world was actually do the whole thing but knowing that we were doing it, and knowing that we chose the other department because we were in conflict with them, so we knew that we were doing this because of that so there was another fun in it but it ended up being actually something that took people to exactly where they wanted to go and that ended up solving a lot of these conflicts and working for them.


KC – It sounds like there’s a lot of lightness in the way that you facilitated it and I think lightness, play and laughter are just so helpful sometimes for diffusing situations.


WH – Definitely, definitely. And I think here you need lightness. One because you can, and why not, if it can be light why wouldn’t you want it to be light? So, that’s one. And two because it adds to the comfort of people to say things that they wouldn’t have said if they were held up in that correct stance or that politically correct idiom that they stand behind.


KC – Yeah, it’s definitely very freeing isn’t it, play, and we know it instinctively because we do it as children, but then sometimes we get locked into our one way of being at 18 or 19 or 20, and then that’s it for the next 60/70 years and it’s kind of like…


WH – That’s true.


KC – What happened to all those other parts of self that get annoyed or get angry, and they’re not allowed to show up.


WH – That’s true, that’s true.


KC – So, would you say that you managed to diffuse some of that tension bubbling under the surface in some of the corporations you’ve worked this with.


WH – So my objection was not to diffuse the tension, I think tension is real. When I deal with it, with tension, my intention is never to diffuse it, my intention is for people to realise what it does to them and then decide what they want to do with it. So, it’s always about let’s see how we are when we’re tense. Maybe laugh at it and recognise the parts of it that are not laughable at and then we can decide what is it that we want to do with it and how we want to do in the way that keeps the tension when it serves us but it actually puts it away when it’s a counterproductive thing thing that we run too or that eventually happens without us realising that it’s happening.


KC – That’s such a great point. There was me sort of labelling tension as bad, and actually you’re right it can be useful at times and it’s up for them to decide, isn’t it? What they do with it. So interesting. So, final question Weal. What advice would you give to someone just starting their ORSC journey?


WH – What advice would I give? [Laughs].


KC – [Laughs] – big question!


WH – I didn’t see that coming.


KC – It’s a curve ball, I’m sorry. Improvisation, right? In the spirit off.


WH – Well I think, ah yeah, well I think when I did my residential we played a lot with sitting in the fire, and I think it’s the most enjoyable part of that fear, being there when things don’t work is actually the biggest pride of the whole process, so my advice would be, and come on, what could, what’s the worst that could happen? [Laughs] So, yeah, I think, it’s the biggest fear when you’re working with systems and I think it’s also the biggest pride when you actually do it and realise that you’re still breathing, even if you stop breathing for a bit of time. SO yeah, that’s it.


KC – That’s brilliant, so stay in the fire, yeah. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much Weal, this was an absolutely fascinating conversation. Take care.


WH – Thank you Katie, bye, you too.


KC – A huge thanks to Wael El Helou for that fascinating discussion about his World Work project and how he used ORSC tools in the face of poverty, war and political instability. CRR Global holds all of its students as change agents and trains them to be conscious of what impact they want to make in the world. We believe that everybody’s impact, whether conscious or unconscious, sends ripples out into the world. It’s up to all of us as World Workers to keep our communities safe and healthy. The World Work project is a key element of the ORSC certification journey. For more information about World Work and certification, do check out and do remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from to make sure you never miss an episode. From the living room to the board room, we believe Relationship Matters.



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