It was 8.30 a.m. at the Zaatari refugee camp in Amman Jordan, when a Syrian refugee lady stepped into my training room, pushing a baby stroller and sweating. She greeted me with a big friendly smile and a firm handshake, then introduced herself with confidence. Noor was a registered attendee of the mentor training component of the UNESCO “Youth Skills Development and Mentoring” project implemented in partnership with Al-Quds College and generously funded by the European Union.

For five days Noor’s two month old baby boy, Mohammed, attended the training quiet and peaceful as an angel. As for Noor, she arrived on time despite the long walk in the heat dragging the baby stroller along the dusty roads of the camp. She had to do this back and forth walk every day to reach the training venue. She participated enthusiastically and showed amazing interest in the topic that I was facilitating considering she was looking after her child, even breastfeeding him and rocking his stroller to sleep.

What do we call this? Resilience? Perseverance? Multitasking? Will of living? Eagerness to learn?

Well, I call it mental toughness! Mental Toughness describes the mind-set that every person adopts in everything they do. It is closely related to qualities such as character, resilience, grit, etc. It is defined as: “A personality trait which determines, in large part, how people respond to challenge, stress and pressure, irrespective of their circumstances”. 

How did Noor respond to her life challenges, stress, and pressure? Living in tough circumstances in a refugee camp with two children which one of them is a two month old baby? She faced the challenge by responding positively to the dramatic changes in her life, seizing what opportunities for learning were available. Noor demonstrated real commitment both to her role as a mother and to her involvement in her development and training. She showed control over her life through a real “can do” spirit and managed her emotions in tiring circumstances. And Noor showed amazing confidence in her abilities by stepping up and do something to improve her life, attending a training that will open up opportunities. Throughout the programme she also demonstrated great interpersonal confidence, participating fully in the programme to extract every bit of learning available.

These illustrate perfectly the four components of mental toughness which are called the 4C’s – CONTROL; CHALLENGE; COMMITMENT and CONFIDENCE. 

Despite having very little herself, Noor offered me a small gift at the end of the training and a note to thank me for inspiring her, but she did not realise how much learning and inspiration I personally got from her and her baby’s presence in my training.

Thank you Noor.

This Article is written By Maya Mattar, Coaching Psychologist and Mental Toughness consultant. Mental Toughness Development and the use of the MTQ48 measure is currently incorporated into the UNESCO “Youth Skills Development and Mentoring” project implemented in partnership with Al-Quds College and generously funded by the European Union.

The featured pictures were taken at the Zaatari Syrian refugee Camp in Jordan, shows Noor and her baby Mohammed and a group picture of the trainees with Maya and the Project manager Arije Alamad.

The “Youth Skills Development and Mentoring” project is part of the larger, “Sustaining Quality Education and Promoting Skills Development for Young Syrian Refugees in Jordan”, through which the UNESCO Amman Office is implementing a 4.3 million Euro project funded by the European Union to sustain quality education and promote skills development opportunities for young Syrian refugees and Jordanian youth impacted by the humanitarian crisis. This project aims to address the challenges posed by the continuing influx of Syrian refugees on the quality of education in Jordan. The project builds upon UNESCO’s experience and commitment to strengthening national capacities of the Education system. Several hundred Syrian refugees have now gone through a programme to assess and develop their Mental Toughness as part of a broader development programme to prepare them for life.

For further information on the project visit

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