Alrowwad in Aida refugee camp offers children culture instead of stones

Situated a couple of metres from the separation wall and surrounded by Israeli watchtowers, a recent study by Berkeley revealed Aida refugee camp is the most tear-gassed place in the world. According to UNRWA statistics from 2015, 5500 people live in a space of 0.07km2, with two thirds of the population under 24 years of age.

All this makes for an explosive context in which to create a centre for culture. But it is precisely this context that renders the work of Alrowwad Culture and Arts Society so necessary and important. In Aida refugee camp, art can literally save lives.

Abdelfattah Abusrour, the director of Alrowwad, founded the centre in 1998. The aim was () to help our children see the potential of living for Palestine rather than dying for Palestine, Abusrour told Palestine Monitor. By encouraging the children of Aida to express the wide range of their emotions, to be creative and hope and dream as children should, Alrowwad hopes to convince them that Palestine is worth living for, and to give them options other than throwing stones or becoming a martyr. If they want to throw stones, if they want to be a martyr, [they can] do it on stage and hopefully not on the streets, Abusrour said.

‘Beautiful Resistance’ encapsulates the philosophy and vision of Alrowwad. Abusrour emphasised that any acts of resistance against an occupation are legitimate, as enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention and its subsequent protocols. However, the director explained: choosing arts, culture and education as means of resistance are beautiful acts of resistance.

In such difficult contexts, where feelings of resentment and despair naturally brew, proposing cultural activities is particularly important. Culture appeals to our common humanity, and its more beautiful side. When you see a film, or a theatre play, or a dance show, or you listen to music, you will not say I will not like it because it is American or () or whatever, you will like [it] based on how much it touches you, Abusrour noted.

The cultural activities offered by Alrowwad include dance, choir and theatre, and are often taught by ex-students who have gone on to become teachers. Volunteers come and go, proposing a wide-ranging variety of activities, including yoga, language and sewing lessons.

‘The Little Lantern’, an adaption from a children’s novel by Ghassan Kanafani, was performed on March 9 when Palestine Monitor visited Alrowwad. Marie Quirynen, who has been volunteering with Alrowwad since Sept. 2017, worked on the performance with a group of seven students whose age ranged from 10 to 15 over the course of four months. The end production was a touching performance, where the energy of the young actors radiated and moved an enthused audience.

The play tells the story of a young princess whose father, the king, has recently died. In order to become queen and to avoid being locked in a room for the rest of her days, the king dictates in his will that the princess is to find a way of bringing the sun into the castle. Far from pleased, the princess nevertheless proceeds to experiment with different ways of doing so. One such attempt involves climbing up to the top of a mountain to collect the sun.

In the end, and thanks to help offered in the form of an unlikely figure, she realises that the only way to bring the sun in is to tear down the wall erected around the palace. She proceeds to do so with gusto.

The symbolic message of such a play in Aida refugee camp is particularly poignant and was not lost on the audience. The young actors evidently took delight in performing and playing their parts, with the six girls taking it in turns to wear the tiara and be the princess. Quirynen explained this choice rose from discussions with the performers, who wanted to show a multi-facetted princess, one which shows a wide variety of emotions and has a strong, wilful personality.

What I find magical in theatre is that () we watch the performance together, we live it together. () It’s a moment where we come together and share something in the here and now, Quirynen said. With performances such as these, actors and audience alike can at least for a moment come together to witness something beautiful, something other than the violence and danger that too often characterises life in the camp.

Source: Palestine Monitor