This week, me and my family hosted two 14-year-old girls from Palestine, visiting Wiltshire on a cultural exchange programme organised by Bradford-on-Avon Friends of Palestine.
The girls are two of fourteen dancers, singers and drummers from the Hakaya Group who train at The Ghirass Cultural Centre in Bethlehem. The Centre was set up in 1993 to provide a safe place for Palestinian children and their families to participate in education and the arts. Ibtisam Alzughayyer, the Centre’s founder and director, has won a UNESCO award for her pioneering work in educating children, particularly those with learning challenges. Ibtisam is passionate about giving children an education so that they can educate the next generation. She believes in investing in people rather than in things and says:
“People can lose their land or their home but education can always be taken with a person, whatever happens.”
Ibtisam and her staff train the Hakaya Group to perform to a high standard so they are able to achieve success. This week, the group performed at several venues in Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge and Bath and were warmly and enthusiastically received. During each day of their visit the fourteen teenagers, aged 12 – 16, attended St Augustine’s Catholic College, a Comprehensive school in Trowbridge, and participated in RE, Dance and PE lessons with St Augustine’s students. They were also free to hang out in the school canteen and playground where they were constantly followed by hordes of fascinated British teenagers who wanted to get to know them better!
As one of the Palestinian girls said on stage at a performance:
“Normally the world sees us as victims or fighters but we are here to show you another side of ourselves”.
It has been an incredible week for us as a host family, for St Augustine’s College staff and students and for everyone who has learned more about the history and culture of Palestine and its people. Mostly, we’ve learned that Palestinian teenagers, just like many British teenagers, enjoy music, singing, dancing, sports, Facebook and YouTube, make-up, clothes, sweets and junk food, chatting and joking with each other and a little bit of flirting, too! I urge you to find out more about The Ghirass Centre and to get in touch with them if you are involved with a school or are interested in arranging another cultural exchange. They have a Facebook page here.
Here are a few pictures from the Trowbridge visit.