What a Drama!

19 November 2009

UK funds drama workshop for young Palestine refugees in Lebanon

Beirut, November 2009

The acclaimed British actor David Morrissey (of Sense and Sensibility, State of Play and The Deal fame) directed a week-long series of drama workshops in UNRWA’s schools in Beirut for 65 students from Palestine refugee camps all over Lebanon. The students, aged 11 to 16, were selected in a series of auditions held throughout the country this summer. The lucky few were given permission to attend the workshop instead of going to regular class at their respective UNRWA schools.

Morrissey and his team have been working with UNRWA in Lebanon for several months to prepare for the workshop, which was made possible by donations from the British Embassy in Beirut and from the UK-based NGO Interpal. Morrissey‘s team of nine theatre, movement, design and music trainers from the UK led five days of activities with the students, culminating in a two-hour performance of drama, dance, song and puppetry. The show was attended by many parents, UNRWA staff and friends, as well as British ambassador to Lebanon Francis Guy, deputy head of mission Piers Cazalet, and the director of UNRWA affairs in Lebanon, Salvatore Lombardo.

The workshop provided the students with a unique opportunity to release their creativity while gaining self-confidence and improving their English language skills. The performers greatly impressed the audience with their acting, singing, dancing and artistic skills. The audience was delighted by a performance of ‘dabke’, a traditional Palestinian folk dance, set to hip-hop music. A choreographed ‘fight‘ scene brought loud gasps and giggles, and a display of break-dancing skills was loudly applauded. Many in the audience praised the students for their creative transformation of everyday items into imaginative props.

The students movingly acted out scenes depicting some of the everyday challenges faced by young Palestine refugees: finding the resources to fund a sick parent‘s health care, dealing with social problems such as theft, and having somewhere safe to play. In particular, the heartfelt singing of one talented teenager from Nahr el-Bared camp moved many spectators to tears.

"I hope the drama workshops gave the Palestinian children the confidence to express themselves and, of course, the chance to have some fun, which in itself is an essential educational lesson," Morrissey said. "I’d love to see drama classes in the curriculum on a regular basis and have drama sit alongside maths, Arabic, English and chemistry."

Morrissey also brought with him three film-makers who worked with the students to record their "diaries" and to film this pilot project. In the ‘diary room‘, Sara, 12, exclaimed: "I wish we had drama every day!" And at the end of the week, Zainab, 14, revealed: "now, I am more comfortable talking to people I don‘t know".

The students spent hours travelling to and from their homes in camps throughout Lebanon, including the north, the south and the Beqa‘a Valley, in order to attend the workshops. At the end of a packed week of activities, the students were sad to say goodbye to their new-found friends from other camps, and to David and their British teachers. Tears flowed and email addresses were swapped among promises to stay in touch.

During their stay in Lebanon, the UK-based team also had the opportunity to witness the living conditions of Palestine refugees at first hand, with visits to Shatila and El-Buss refugee camps organised by UNRWA’s Lebanon field office.

The UK is among UNRWA‘s top five donors. In April of this year, the British government made a generous contribution of GBP£250,000 (US$405,000),which allowed the Agency to continue its work to remove unexploded ordnances from Nahr el-Bared camp and to support the reconstruction/rehabilitation in the camp, parts of which were badly damaged during the conflict in 2007.

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