Cinema creating opportunities for dialogue with children and young people in Gaza
This blog was originally published as a part of the NORRAG Blog Series on the Role of Quality Education in Building Just and Sustainable Peace.
More than half of the Gaza Strip’s overall population is eighteen years old or younger. This cohort’s formative experiences have been shaped by war and the threat of war; by economic hardship; by environmental crisis; by institutional failure, social division, political polarization, and ideological rigidity; and by an eight-year-long blockade restricting commerce, freedom of movement and ongoing intellectual and cultural exchange. Cut off from the outside world, chronically exposed to external violence and internal conflict, and poorly educated in overcrowded classrooms where rote learning and authoritarian teaching methods are the norm, the generation coming of age remains vulnerable to the epidemic of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear of “the other” that isolation has helped unleash. In May 2021, The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) confirmed that 12 of the 63 children killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza were participating in the agency’s programme aimed at helping children deal with trauma. With Gaza’s future hanging in the balance, the task at hand is to help nurture the creative capacity of young people so that they are better able to resist fatalism and instead offer the opportunity to open their minds through transformative learning experiences – formal, non-formal or informal – so they are better equipped to aspire, explore and achieve their full potential.
Gaza Children Cinema, Peacebuilding Education initiative
Since 2013, Gaza Children Cinema (GCC) has sought to follow a strategy aimed at boosting the resilience of children in local communities. Cinema represents the mode of “treatment,” one that integrates entertainment, education, and social development. Partnering with Tamer Institute for Community Education a local team of educators organise cinematic sessions that include discussing a short (30-45 minute) piece representing a diversity of genres. Illustrative examples include programs broadcast on Al-Jazeera’s children’s channel, excerpts from Charlie Chaplin movies, and prize-winning Japanese and European animation.
The form and content of each piece are designed to engage children’s imagination, spark their curiosity, and enrich their sense of what is possible in the lives of individuals, families and societies. The material serves as a lens allowing broadened perspectives on global cultures and communities. It also becomes a catalyst for dialogue among youth themselves about ambitions, worries, and dreams, about the nature of their environment and what changes they would like to see, about pitfalls that stand in the way of a better future and about pathways to progress. GCC initiative provides what is rare in the Strip: a safe space where children can speak in their own voice and listen to and learn from each other; where they can share ideas and work together to identify and address personal and collective challenges; and where they are able to experience a culture of open-minded inquiry rather a culture of fear and indoctrination. This educational experience offers an opportunity to open their minds beyond the lived experience of conflict, to reflect and imagine a different world.
“It was a sweet and strange feeling when I entered the hall and I liked the movie because it was the first time I attended something other than football. I always attended only football, the movie was about music and my love, God and cinema too.” (Ibrahim, 8-year old)
A quest for the cinema to become part of the culture of young children in Gaza
Cinema activities have become part of spaces that Tamer Institute for Community Education offer for young people in Gaza. The community based education NGO works closely with local partners to reach out to the most marginalised groups of children and young people in Gaza. Almost a decade of implementing cinema sessions in local community education centres, Tamer has adapted cinema to become one of the organisation’s integral education programs. The presence of cinema workshops has had a two-fold impact: it has contributed to strengthening the existence of love to cinema experience among young people of Gaza and supported the efforts to revive culture of cinema in the blockaded Gaza Strip; and it has created a non-formal educational space, where dialogue becomes possible. This has created a multiplier effect, where local education partners follow the steps of Tamer Institute to provide cinematic experiences for children in their local communities, offering additional spaces for designing cinema activities and ensuring safe spaces are secured for children to reflect and tell their stories.
“The movies we see always carry lessons that we can learn from, there is something behind every movie. In it there is a lesson or an idea that we must deduce and think about.” (Mahdi, young boy)
The first “child cinema” in Gaza
The past few years of committed efforts have generated interest, passion and the involvement of local communities, whether from individuals, families or partnering organisations. In this context, Tamer Institute currently works in partnership with the Emaar Association in the Khan Yunis district, south of Gaza Strip, to design, build and equip permanent cinema spaces for children. Working tirelessly with the local partner, Tamer Institute has secured financial resources to start organising cinema sessions. In partnership with Emaar, Tamer implemented the first experimental film screening in which children from the surrounding areas as well as the parents participated. Educators, including facilitators, parents, children, and local committees, have shared admiration to the initiative, the first of its kind that create a space for entertainment and a safe educational space dialogue on the issues impacting the lives of communities in Gaza
“The cinema usually happens in a large hall, and the most important thing in it is calm.” (Hala, young girl)
For children and young people growing up in contexts of oppression and blockage, and with conflict a constant feature of their lives, this type of non-formal quality education experience offers joy, and challenges narratives of hopelessness. Seen in the light of the founding statement of UNESCO “Since war begins in the minds of men (sic), it is in the minds of men (sic) that the defenses of peace must be constructed” (UNESCO, 1966), the Gazan Children’s Cinema, and other such opportunities, highlight the power of education to contribute to reflection, to dialogue and to the hope of more peaceful future for millions of young people growing up in Conflict.
The blog was published as a part of the NORRAG Blog Series on the Role of Quality Education in Building Just and Sustainable Peace. The original blog post can be accessed here.
Ayman Qwaider, MA in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies. Ayman is an educator and a researcher from Gaza, Palestine, now based in Australia with a Masters degree in Peace, Conflict and Development from The University of Jaume I (Spain). Ayman is a qualified teacher and through his career, he has participated in various research projects, latest of which was the Deathscapes Project (www.Deathscapes.org) and worked with several international organizations including UNESCO Paris and UNESCO Palestine. He is particularly interested in inclusive education, disability inclusion, and education in emergencies. Ayman has experience with community-based education projects in post-conflict contexts and working with people with disabilities. He is co-founder of Gaza Children Cinema a community-based education initiative in Gaza that aims to provide a peaceful and a creative space where children can be children and where the overwhelming realities of siege, loss and war can be temporarily forgotten.