5 May 2010
Tourists looked on in surprise as Palestinian schoolchildren from all over Syria flooded into Bosra amphitheatre to perform their annual Cinderella show on 16 April. The ancient ruins came alive once again, as young refugees in traditional dress sang, danced and played music in a variety of sketches.
As a joint effort between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UNRWA, the Cinderella show was an exciting fusion of Syria, Japan, and Palestine. After joining together to recite the three national anthems, the students split into groups based on their city, with classes from Homs, Damascus, Hama, Dera’a, Latakia and Aleppo each giving a short speech about their city and performing several songs.
The show gave the students’ curiosity full rein, and they performed everything from Japanese pop music to Palestinian wedding songs, using a variety of instruments and singing in both Arabic and Japanese.
The seats were packed for most of the performance, but at one point the song and dance proved so infectious that the audience could no longer just watch. Diplomats, tourists, and parents alike swarmed onto the floor of the amphitheatre, joining hands to dance the dabkeh along with the music. Finally, the students came together to end the show with a massive ensemble.
The Cinderella show takes its name from the European fable, where a poor girl rises above her circumstances and dances her way to success. “Our aim was to have the students develop their artistic talents and attitudes towards world culture in a safe and stimulating environment,” said Mr Mohammad Ammouri, the chief of the field education programme, who supervised the project.
The show ended with a bittersweet note, as Roger Hearn, director of UNRWA affairs in Syria, and Ali Mustafa, director-general of the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR) bade farewell to Ms Akiko Tomita, JICA’s chief representative in Syria. Hearn thanked Tomita for fostering Palestinian-Japanese understanding during her “three years of great support for UNRWA.” He also expressed his gratitude to the government of Syria, GAPAR and the Ministry of Culture for their close cooperation in making the show a success.
It was clear to the audience that these Palestinian youth have come to love the culture of their cities in Syria, while remaining connected by a strong Palestinian identity and being open to new traditions.
Text and photos by Rory Donnelly