The Palestinian Territories have long been battered by conflict, violence and economic sanctions causing profound psychological effects on their most vulnerable, particularly the children and youth.
In the Gaza Strip, many children have lived through three wars in less than a decade. Across the territories, all children have only known a life under occupation. In 2006, following the Islamist movement Hamas’ election victory, Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza, exacerbating poverty in the overcrowded territory.
The looming threat of violence and the constant burden of economic hardship have stripped away Palestinian children’s sense of security, embedding in them feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness.
In times of conflict, art is often relegated to the bottom of the priority list as limited resources are directed towards health and economy. But it is in fact during such trying times that avenues of self-expression are most needed to try to heal the trauma suffered by war-affected children.
Theatre Day Productions (TDP) was established in 1995 to create a professional theatre and drama education programme for children and young people, first in Gaza and later in the West Bank through its East Jerusalem office.
TDP runs workshops in Free Expression, Drama and Animation as well as a theatre club for children called Kids For Kids. Through these activities, participants are given a channel to express their fears and hopes while exploring themes relevant to their community.
Working in small units, workshop participants are divided by age group and sessions are adapted to the needs of the group based on recent experiences and realities on the ground. Groups of school children take the drama workshops one step further by perfecting their work and then performing their plays to a live audience of peers, parents and teachers during a two-week tour.
With strong teams in both Gaza and East Jerusalem, TDP has engaged with various stakeholders including schools and community centres to reach tens of thousands of children over the years. The organisation also trains adults in acting and drama teaching. Last year, it reached 80,496 children through plays, performances and drama workshops.
TDP is working to shape the view that performing arts are not only a tool for self-expression and healing, but also a vital agent for transformation in Palestinian society.
Photos: Shareef Sarhan/Stars Foundation