Better Work Jordan: Improving workers’ mental health through creativity

2 Nov 2022

AMMAN, Jordan

The Mental Health Project of Better Work Jordan celebrated the creative talents of ten garment workers, who won a juried competition organized this month by the programme to mark World Mental Health Day.

The “Workers Got Talent” competition aimed to raise awareness about the importance of creative outlets for improving workers’ mental health in their work environment as well as creating a space for expressing their views on mental health.

At a ceremony held at the Dulail Youth Centre in Zarqa, a panel of representatives of the Mental Health Project, garment factory management and workers, awarded the winners after evaluating videos submitted by 200 contestants showing their singing, painting, dancing and other talents.

One of the winners was Omi Jihan, 29, a production assistant from Nepal.

“I love singing and it helps me express myself. My colleagues admire my voice and singing, which encouraged me to join the competition,” said Jihan, wearing a traditional dress. “Singing relieves stress and boosts my mood.”

For Hiam Mashaqbah, a Jordanian worker, her participation won her a prize and eventually a promotion at work.

“The factory management encouraged me to join the competition and produce a video although I did not know how to do it,” said Mashaqbah, 30. “I searched the internet, learned how to make videos and designed two animated characters talking about the importance of mental health at work.” Mashaqbah came up with the idea to educate workers on the need for addressing workplace stressors, as this “ would positively reflect on production and desire to work”.

“The factory management recognised my strengths and promoted me from production assistant to data entry clerk,” Mashaqbah said happily.

“Participate passionately”

Jordan’s garment sector employs nearly 66,000 workers, 72 per cent of whom are women. Migrants make up 76 per cent of the workforce. These workers face a wide range of challenges, such as living and working conditions, including hours of work, production pressures, service accessibility and language barriers.

In 2021, Better Work Jordan started its Mental Health Project to build garment workers’ resilience against mental health risks, including ensuring that factory-level support exists, and that mental health referral systems are accessible by all workers.

Care was taken to ensure that the talent competition was also made accessible to workers with disabilities, like Hiba Al Issa, a Jordanian production worker who enjoys singing.

“I was hesitant to take part in the competition, but my colleagues encouraged to participate,” she said. “Sometimes I sing at work, which eases stress and pressure.”

Al Issa believes her participation could motivate other talented workers with disabilities to employ their talents to reduce work-related stress and pressure.

“Persons with disabilities need to be encouraged and integrated into a healthy work environment. Disability should not be a barrier to enjoying normal life,” Issa added.

Sahar Al Rawashdeh, a mental health project focal person at a garment factory, said creative activities contribute to increasing workers’ awareness of the importance of mental health and to stimulating their interest to learn more about it.

“The level of participation revealed a genuine desire to share their talents, which helps improve mental health,” she said.

The workers shared “interesting creative work”, according to competition panellist, Sumana Akhtar a mental health focal point with Better Work Jordan. “Workers’ enjoyment was very clear. I think these activities are good for workers’ mental health.”

Innovative ways to raise awareness

The competition was not restricted to individual participation. Shukri Komar from Pakistan and his colleagues formed a dance group and won.

“I have always loved dancing since I was a kid. I post my performances on social media sites,” said Kumar, a production line supervisor. “With encouragement from the factory, I formed the group three months ago. I think dancing releases stress and tension and helps improve physical and mental health.”

Maha Al Riyahi finds peace of mind in painting, which helps her “completely disconnect from work stress and pressures”.

“I have always enjoyed drawing and painting,” said Al Riyahi, 24, a human resources officer. “I took part in the competition with a painting that showed multiple faces expressing internal conflicts that one usually undergoes.”

During the ceremony, Selva Kumar, a senior manager at a garment factory and competition panellist, spoke about the importance of mental health and its role in improving productivity.

“Mental health includes social and emotional safety. It impacts how we think, feel and act, helping us determine the way we deal with stress, communicate with others and take healthy decisions,” said Kumar.

Collaborating with partners and stakeholders, Better Work Jordan, through the Mental Health Project, continues to address issues affecting garment workers’ mental health. The programme has taken steps to raise mental health issues at the sectoral level to ensure that the needs of all workers are acknowledged and addressed.

“The competition was also a way for workers to express their views and feelings about mental health,” said Mental Health Project Coordinator, Alaa Alnasser.

“Such innovative approaches enhance awareness of mental health. We hope these activities will continue, and employers will continue to enhance workers’ mental health”.

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