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The cast of Lord of Show, a play written by themselves and their classmates.

The cast of Lord of Show, a play written by the young Palestinian participants themselves and their classmates.

Hands Up project puts young Palestinians in touch with the outside world

Educational opportunities for young Palestinians are limited, with school resources scarce and drastic restrictions imposed on their society as a whole. But thanks to modern communications, the enterprise of volunteers and their own willing efforts, Palestinian schoolchildren now enjoy a creative interchange with young people around the world, allowing both sides to gain important insights into each others’ lives. Hastings-based teacher Adrian Underhill explains how the Hands Up project came about and its transformative effects on the lives of young Palestinians.

A few years ago a friend of mine, Nick Bilbrough, started doing storytelling in schools in Palestine, both Gaza and the occupied West Bank. The kids loved it, and apart from practising their English, it offered a powerful way to make connections with the rest of the world in a country where freedom of movement is severely limited and feelings of isolation common. And the kids were so engaged that they started telling stories too…

The cast of Story of a Homeland, a shadow play written and performed by girls from Al Madina Al Munawara Girls School, Rafah, Gaza.

The cast of Story of a Homeland, a shadow play written and performed by girls from Al Madina Al Munawara Girls School, Rafah, Gaza.

Then, using simple video conferencing tools, Nick connected directly from the UK with the children in their classes in Palestine, and continued storytelling, playing games and other kinds of chat and conversation, all in English via the internet. Soon he had gathered a group of volunteers from all over the world, who connect regularly with classes in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, as well as Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.

And what happens when kids are motivated and bursting with energy to express themselves? They put their hands in the air, hence the Hands Up Project (HUP)! The kids soon started to dramatize the stories they were telling, so several class members were involved in telling the story, and from this came the Remote Theatre Project, which is where I got involved.

The concept is so simple and the impact so compelling: any class in any school in Palestine can write and perform a mini drama in English, which is then made available to the rest of the world through the HUP YouTube channel. It works like this:

Remote Theatre: The five simple rules

1. Maximum five kids in a play
2. Maximum five minutes long
3. Written by the kids – in English – teacher can help
4. Acted and video recorded direct on static mobile phone
5. Video posted on the Hands Up YouTube channel

Last year 88 plays were entered, this year 180 plays – the majority are from Gaza where the enthusiasm is highest, perhaps because the internet provides the only way to ‘travel abroad’, and have a presence in the world outside the border.

The casts of three plays written by Gazan children which were selected to be performed at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. The writer is second left in the back row, wearing a cap.

The casts of three plays written by Gazan children which were selected to be performed at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. The writer is second left in the back row, wearing a cap.

These plays can be shown to children in any class in any school in the world. Schools in Turkey, Italy, South America and Finland are already doing this. The class can then meet the Gaza class in real time, through class-to-class video connection, and exchange conversation, comment on the play, meet the kids, ask questions – all in English. And maybe even perform the same mini play in return.

As initial encouragement, prizes have been awarded. An international panel has been set up which selects about 20 plays to go outside Gaza for a few days (if Israeli permits are granted) and perform live in the West Bank. And the winning play comes to the UK to be performed at different venues, which has happened both last year and this.

And what a boost it is for the kids and their culture to travel outside Gaza, to come to the UK, to get standing ovations, to experience a warm welcome, and to be heard, appreciated, and understood.

At the Palestine National Theatre in Jerusalem: the writer, left, Nick Bilborough, Huda, responsible for promotions, and Amer, creative director.

At the Palestine National Theatre in Jerusalem: the writer, left, Nick Bilborough, Huda, responsible for promotions, and Amer, creative director.

Many of the plays are about the current situation in Gaza and West Bank and the impact on life as seen through the children’s eyes. Others are more general stories about how to live in hard times, and topics such as diet, family life, marriage.

The Hands Up Project has won a British Council ELTon (English Language Teaching) award for innovation, which was presented last month in London in recognition of the life-changing work HUP is performing.

How can classes in Hastings schools meet classes from Gaza?

Here are seven ways you can get involved as a class, teacher or individual volunteer right here in Hastings:

  1. Class to class, face to face, online, and in real time. Have your class meet and get to know a Palestinian class. Contact info@handsupproject.org

Chat, exchange info on kids’ interests, family, media, life-style or carry out a Q&A.

Ask the Palestinian class to perform their Hands Up play – live for your class!
Later your class could perform the same play, in their own way, live for the Palestinian class, and enjoy more chat. Maybe your class could write and perform its own remote play.

See examples of this here.

  1. You as an individual can link up with a class to offer your choice of storytelling drama or chat as an English language lesson. There are already many volunteers doing this around the world. Contact HUP. See examples here.
  2. Become a School Ambassador in your area for HUP to let your colleagues know about the compulsive immediacy of seeing the world through children’s drama. Contact HUP.
  3. Join a HUP teacher training course and learn how to create Remote Theatre in your school. At the moment these courses – fully fledged teacher-training courses by world-renowned trainers working voluntarily – are offered in Palestine and in Devon. Contact HUP.
  4. Offer an online teacher development session for Gaza UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) teachers. These sessions are delivered by well-known English language teaching methodologists. Contact HUP. See playlist.
  5. Buy the book Toothbrush and Other Plays written by Palestinian children and use the plays with your own learners of English.
  6. Make a donation. We are entirely dependent on the generosity of individuals who want to make a difference to the lives of Palestinian children and young people. Please donate here

 

See also Adrian’s account of his trip with Gazan schoolchildren to present their plays to audiences in the occupied West Bank.

Posted 09:45 Tuesday, Jul 30, 2019 In: Young People

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Jane Arnold

    Great project. A lot of work for you but definitely worth it. Those children will remember it all their lives

    Comment by Jane Arnold — Monday, Aug 19, 2019 @ 12:47

  2. Haneen Khaled

    So impressive !
    I think hands up.project has managed to connect the two.parts.of the world together. Every day , it is flying high in the sky holding the glory of those young Palestinaian learners who are deprived of their rights in life. The hands up project is not only a project for.learning , yet it is a renewable chance for.everyone to exchange culture and life situations through language tunnel.

    Comment by Haneen Khaled — Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019 @ 12:03

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