Real Lives

Human interest stories


Summer Music, drama and arts clubs in Nablus

Hamdi, far left and Leeza, far right jamming in the music club

By Toni O’Loughlin

NABLUS, 23 July 2006 - The Palestinian school year has finished but that’s not why Hamdi, Leeza and Rouschan are rejoicing. They’re happy because they’re working hard in the Middle Eastern heat.

While children in places like Western Europe, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait play freely during their summer holidays, Palestinian children are studying to rescue their culture, escape the daily violence and to reclaim their childhood.

In the West Bank towns of Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarem, between 210 and 240 children are learning to play and sing the songs of their grandparents on traditional and modern instruments. They’re also learning to draw and to act in UNICEF-funded music, art and theatre clubs which have been set up for the summer holidays.

Hamdi, an 11 year old boy from Nablus - where the clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinians have been so violent that some call it the City of Fire - has learned to play the tableh (traditional Arabic drum) and the organ in the safety of the music club.
He’s been looking forward to the summer break and the reopening of the club, which started last year. Yet unlike his peers in rich countries, Hamdi had to compete for the privilege of enjoying his hobby.

Membership to the club is highly prized. With more than 70 per cent of West Bank households living in poverty few families can afford the expense of private tuition. And with an acute shortage of music teachers, there’s dearth of opportunities for learning music in the public education system.

For every spot in the club there were two applicants or more which meant children had to sit a one hour test to be selected. Even so, there are still not enough instruments for every child to have their own. With just 200 pieces of equipment, the children must share.
Still, Hamdi, like Leeza, a 10-year-old girl who plays the piano, organ and xylophone, feels happy when he plays music in the club, though neither of them dream of being pop stars. Hamdi wants to be a vet and Leeza wants to be an engineer.
But Rouschan, an 11-year-old girl, does come to the club with the hope of going to university to be an artist.

Rouschan, exihibiting her painting in the club
In a town where school children and soldiers regularly engage in verbal and violent battle it seems that only a child’s mind could imagine such possibilities. 
In yet another invasion by the Israeli military on  19 July, youths were again swept up in the violence that lasted for three days after soldier launched an attack on a government compound while looking for Palestinian militants. Sometimes children seem to be the main targets as was the case in June when the army surrounded a play area in Jamal Abed Al-Naser Park.
Hanadi Jaber Abu Taqa, the Assistant Project Officer who runs the UNICEF office in Nablus and lives with her husband and children in Tulkarem, says that many Palestinian children grow up seeing violent behavior as normal.
 “Almost every day there’s an incursion [into Nablus] either during the day or in the morning. … In fact when there isn’t one, something seems wrong with the daily routine,” she says.
With children living in an environment of such extreme violence and insecurity, Hanadi says the music, art and drama clubs are important for counteracting the violence by teaching children to express themselves in a positive way.
The clubs are also important for reinvigorating traditional Palestinian culture. Prior to 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was created, there was no such cultural education nor any Palestinian radio stations under the Israeli occupation.
But thanks to funding from the Norwegian government, more Palestinian children are learning about their cultural heritage.  



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