Still images and language learning

Rereading some of the “oldie but goodie blogs”, I came across this one and thought how well it could work in some of the Zoom sessions that I’m doing with students connecting from home. Most of the activities suggested here would work in online groups, using a combination of breakout rooms and simple adaptations. In fact, I think I’ll try some this week..

Still images, or tableaux, are a common convention used in the field of educational drama. They basically involve the learners working together in small groups to create a human statue of a frozen moment in time. The still image could depict a key event in a story (for instance when Cinderella’s sisters try on the glass slipper), a social problem (eg. a dysfunctional family), or a word or concept (the beach or a robbery).  I recently spent a week doing a lot of still image work in a series of drama workshops with children from UNRWA schools in different Palestinian cities. Here’s one that was created by some children in Hebron on the topic of exams.

exams - still image

Wherever you are in the world, I think you’ll be able to identify with some of the universal aspects of exams which are portrayed in this image: the struggling boy at the back, the confident one who’s already finished in front of him, the ‘cheating’ that’s going on at the front, and the teacher’s reaction to this.

In multilingual classes where English is the common language this activity generates a lot of useful discussion in English at the planning stage, but in a monolingual class, however much we insist on English being used, it’s almost inevitable, in my experience, that learners will plan their still images in their mother tongue. This doesn’t matter at all, in my opinion, as English language development can happen at the feedback stage. Here the role of the teacher becomes very important in providing opportunities for language exposure, language activation and critical thinking.

For example with the above still image, the teacher could ask questions which expose the learners to language (Who’s the teacher here? Who’s happy? Who’s trying to ‘cheat’? etc). They could follow this us with questions to activate language (What’s Sahar’s job? How does Khalid feel? What is Ahmed doing? etc), and they could also ask more open, personalising questions to generate more critical thinking ( What do you see here? What’s Maryam thinking? What’s going to happen next? Which person do you sympathise with the most? Why? )

Of course, with classes that are new to this technique, as was the case with the most of the learners I worked with in Palestine, they may need a lot of support before creating their own still images. With the same group in Hebron, we did a stage where I invited two learners up to the front and basically told them how to position themselves (see below)

group composed still image

The conversation then went something like this :-

Me: Who are they?
Learner 1: Teacher and student
Me: OK. Where are they?
Learner 2: In school
Me: I see. What is the teacher doing Ibrahim?
Learner 3: She help student.
Me: Yes, she’s helping the student


Me: What if this is in a restaurant, Yousef?
Learner 7: Waiter show menu and say this mut’abel very good
Me: I see, yes it looks like she’s recommending the mut’abel, yes?


Here’s another activity which I think works quite well as a preparation for learners creating their own still images. I invite one learner to come up to the front of the class and to make a still image on her own of anything she likes. This works best, in my experience, if they don’t think too much about what they are doing. Now another person comes up and spontaneously creates a statue which interacts in some way with the first. A third learner now comes up and says a sentence to explain what she thinks is going on, using ‘Once upon a time…’ as a sentence head. For the image below with a girls group in Gaza (in which I was demonstrating the activity) the third learner produced a sentence like ‘Once upon a time a man tried to steal a woman’s bag

fight scene

Learners can come up in threes and take it in turns to create their own spontaneous images in front of the class, with each of them having the chance to be one of the three roles. These kind of activities are great in my opinion for encouraging creativity and for providing a very memorable context in which to situate language. I find it interesting how, when we look at still images like these, our minds automatically start imagining stories. What stories can you see in the still image below (also created by the girls’ group in Gaza) ? Is it about a girl who found a missing kitten? Is it a marriage proposal? Have some gold prospectors just found a nugget of gold in a river? Or is it something else?


Have you ever used still images in your online classes? If so, how and for what purpose? Please leave a comment below.

My Hands Up Project Anniversary 🎉🎊🎈

A year in the life of the Hands Up Project Coordinator.

Today is the 9th, April, and to you it could be just another normal day, but to me, it is a very special one. And here’s why!

Last year, on this particular day, I officially joined the Hands Up Project as the Gaza-based coordinator. I will never forget how I felt then; lots of emotions going round my head but pride was the strongest feeling of all. I was so excited and enthusiastic to start. Once I did, I immediately found myself taken by the job – as much as I hate to call it a job – because to me, it is much more than that!

The first day was one of the most memorable days of my time at work. I instantly made friends with everyone! They were very open and happy for me to contribute as much as I wanted to and were open to any suggestions and ideas. This instantly made me feel comfortable and definitely made me feel like part of a team. I am so fortunate to have known and met every one of you, whether it was virtually or in reality. You are the best part of this experience! ❤

I love my job! I truly do. It has been a challenging but also a highly rewarding role for me in this past year. Organizing sessions and events related to the HUP as well as administrating them was my main role. I’m a highly organized person and that’s why I’m good at what I do (seems like I’m bragging but it’s true). I am also known as a ‘people person’, or that was what a very dear friend once told me. And by that they meant, I really know how to talk to people and make them feel good and comfortable. Is that true? Or were they being too nice to me? These two features made me the right person in the right place! Bragging again- I’m sorry! 😂

Seriously though, I must confess that the Hands Up Project has given to me way more than I added to it. My level of English isn’t the same as when I started. My speaking and writing skills have improved dramatically. I had to send lots of emails and messages each day in English and I can speak now more confidently and more fluently than I ever thought I’d be able to. This is all basically due to the direct exposure to the natural English language used by our remote volunteers around the world! I got this from liaising with them about the sessions and also joining so many brilliant events that we run. Of course, I’ve gained so much more than English skills -these people have also become my very close friends.  😍

Celebrating my birthday! A very lovely moment when you sang to me! ❤

Anyway, enough about me and now let me tell you about my amazing year with the Hands Up Project. It was tremendously astonishing and an absolute privilege! Here’s a couple of sessions that will always be marked in my memory!

First session I remember going to was ‘Students Vs Teachers’. An amazing opportunity to empower students by giving them the chance to bring very difficult questions to their teachers.  We were beaten so many times that I can’t remember! Those sessions are very innovative and one of a kind. The Hands Up Project was the first to come up with them! Isn’t that something to be proud of?😎

Another session I’ve been to is the ‘Show and tell’, in which students all over the world used to meet via zoom to show things or objects that meant something to them and to talk about it in detail. Other students listen and ask questions about it if they want to. To be honest, seeing that intercultural communication taking place was really heart melting! I mean, just to see the students, especially the ones from Palestine, who probably have never been given the chance to leave Palestine and interact with anyone outside their country, was really overwhelming!

I could go on mentioning all the sessions I have been to, but that would make it too long and also too boring for you to read! But a session I am really proud of is the ‘Oh, my home’ session which is all about families from all around the world gathering to talk about what home means to them. We shared ideas, thoughts, cultures and even kitchen recipes! I have been to all the three of them and I intend to go to every one of them.

Here’s the pictures from the three sessions!

Of course, I can never forget our new ‘Popcorn’ book launch, The International Women’s Day, and the Lockdown Remote Theatre competition of which I was responsible for delivering the trophies to the winning students! Those moments were and will always be very precious to me, and I’ll never forget them. Unfortunately, there are so many events which there isn’t space to mention here. All were massive events that I am immensely proud to have taken part in. The amount of hard work and creativity put in those sessions and events is just amazing! Thanks to everyone who was involved and to the ones who participated as well. It was a great pleasure indeed.

See below my popcorn t-shirt and the pictures when I gave those students their prizes! I look happier than the girls! I know!

I have had a lot of great experience learning my new work and I had made a lot of good friends and colleagues. Although it’s been only 1 year, it seems like we have known each other for many years. Thanks, my dearest Nick and Sara, my two great supporters of all times and my great source of power, inspiration and creativity. Thank you as well to all the teachers and remote volunteers for your endless love and support. I know I wouldn’t be able to succeed without you. I am very proud to have known you. ❤

This year has ended today, but I am eager to enter into an even more exciting and successful one. And yes, this means I’d love to keep doing this job for another year or even forever- unless someone has a different idea!

As long as the Hands Up Project exists, Rajaa will exist. ❤

‘Once a Handsupper, always a Handsupper!’ ❤ <

Online, collaborative, intercultural language learning

On the 19th February, I gave a talk with this title at the British Council BBELT conference in Mexico. I’m publishing the abstract and the video of the talk here. I think it sums up quite nicely some of the innovative things we’re doing right now.

There is no doubt that the corona virus pandemic has thrown the whole world’s education systems into crisis. But out of the chaos of this crisis, new opportunities for collaborative online learning of English are emerging; activities which require nothing but a device connected to the internet, and a willingness to use English communicatively and interculturally.

In this talk, I’ll explore three innovative ways in which the Hands Up Project is using online collaborative activities to develop the English language skills of learners around the world. All of the activities are free and open to all.

1) Our online intercultural communication skills course for under 16’s from anywhere in the world

2) Our team-taught Facebook live ‘English for Palestine’ curriculum-based sessions

3) An intercultural remote theatre project, involving children from Argentina, Palestine, Romania and Spain

We’ll also hear from three volunteer English teachers with the Hands up Project; some of the driving forces behind these ideas (Irena in Serbia, Elena in Spain and Hanaa in Gaza, Palestine) and by doing this tease out what the benefits may be of this work.

Oh, my home!

Would you like to meet other families somewhere in the world and share with them what ‘home’ means to you?

One thing that’s happened worldwide during the corona pandemic is that (love it or loathe it!), we’ve all been pushed to spend more time at home; to notice and appreciate the things that really matter to us. ‘Oh my home!’ is an opportunity for people (of any age) to do Zoom ‘show and tell’ together. You could share with us all an object that represents ‘home’ for you? Maybe you’d like to show your favourite place in your home, or a picture of something that represents home? Or something else?

We did this for the first time last Sunday between families in Totnes, where I live in the UK, and families in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. There were participants there between the ages of 2 and 70 and we talked about all kinds of things: pigeons, fish, flowers, football, hills, Italian food, songs about our homes, kunnafah, backgammon, the love of our families, national anthems, and (perhaps most bizarrely) Argentinian tea!

Dina and her grandad telling us about Beit Hanoun – then and now
The moment when Lulu joined us!
Home means ‘fish and chips’
Sali and her singing family
Mark’s Backgammon board from Iraq
How to make Kunafah on a fire
What is the best Italian meal that Paul cooks?

Now we’d like to open it up to families anywhere in the world! We want to make sure that people in as many different places as possible can be involved so we’ve chosen a time which will make it possible for people in Palestine, Europe, the Americas and the Far East to take part.

So it will be every Sunday (starting on Sunday 14th March) at 1pm Palestine time. This means:-

5 am (anybody already up at that time!?) in Mexico , 6 am in Ecuador, 8 am in Brazil and Chile, 11 am in Portugal and the UK, 12pm in Angola, Bosnia, Italy and Croatia, 1pm in Palestine, Finland, South Africa and Romania, 2pm in Turkey, 4pm in Pakistan, 6 pm in Indonesia, 7pm in Malaysia, 8pm in Japan, 10 pm in Australia and midnight (anybody still up at that time!?) in New Zealand .

So that everyone has a chance to speak and to be heard we’ll limit it to 6 families in total and ideally only one family from each country. The session will take a maximum of an hour. Please send us an email to to register, telling us which Sunday you’d like to do.

New intercultural link up with UK secondary school

At the Hands up Project, we love doing intercultural link ups between young people in different places in the world. You can read in a book about what it’s like to live in a particular place but it all becomes so much more engaging, and the learning is much richer when you actually hear about it from young people of your age who live there themselves.

We did our first one more than four years ago between pupils at Kevics secondary school in Totnes, UK, and students at New Khan Younis Prep girls UNRWA school in Gaza. It was organised by long-standing HUP volunteer in Gaza, Amal Mukhairez. I dare you to watch the video below without being moved to tears.

So I was especially excited when a few days ago I had a really nice phone call with Ruth Sheard-Pearson, the assistant head teacher of Hazel Wood High School in Bury in the North of England. Ruth has an inspiring plan for an intercultural link up between young people in schools in Palestine and all of their classes in Grades 7, 8 and 9. We would love to be involved of course!

Pupils are being asked to prepare a piece of creative work to be performed or presented to our students in Palestine in a live link up. So we’re looking for classes of students of a similar age (11-15) who they can link to and who can present something back to them. We’ll make sure that there is plenty of time for students to share questions and experiences too.

Here are Ruth’s ideas for what the students’ presentations could involve:-

The link up will last for an hour and it will take place at some point in the UK school day (11-5 Palestine time ) in the week beginning Monday 29th March (Monday to Thursday). If you’re a teacher and you’d like your 11-15 year old students to be involved, please send us an email to telling us the grade and the number of students who’d like to take part, as well as an idea of what you’d like to do. It could be some of Ruth’s ideas above, or it could involve a performance of a remote play, or something else. We’ll need up to 5 classes for each of the three grades, so there are plenty of opportunities for lots of Palestinian students to be involved but please get in touch as soon as possible to reserve your place and so that the students have sufficient time to prepare.

A Sea of Solidarity

Organizing for change! Volunteer Sue Piper tells us about an evening of togetherness across the internet.

It was a dark and snowy night. The wind was howling through the town and snow blanketed the ground in deepest, darkest Manchester, England. Huddled inside their homes protected from the storm, a host of sisters and brothers gathered around their devices waiting for the call…..

The hands of the clock ticked slowly towards the half hour. “Welcome to the meeting! Norma (chair of Manchester PSC) exclaimed. “A special treat awaits you this evening. We are so honoured to be hosting the Hands Up Project!” 

We were separated physically but the wonders of technology have united us.

Nick introduced the origins of the project and then we were transported to a different world…Three plays, two of which were live and direct from Palestine. 

First a video of a play entitled ‘An Exile inside a Home Country’. This was a moving and powerful story of  a young boy who visits his father in prison. Then secondly came a live performance of  ‘I Couldn’t  say Goodbye’, a dramatic and emotional account of a mother speaking to her dead son. 

The heartrending “Oh My Home”

Thirdly came the  live performance of  ‘Oh My Home’ -the tragic story of a family seeking refuge who had to flee on a boat and were lost at sea had audience members glued to their seats.

Comments of support and appreciation flowed into the chat box.

“Thank you Hands Up Project for this incredible evening!”

“What a a fantastic group of young girls- this will surely be the generation that will overcome..”

“The teachers should be so proud of their students confidence and ability to perform such plays in their second language”

“Wow! These plays are so powerful- what an amazing evening you have given us”

“Absolutely wonderful, keep going, you are not forgotten!”

Afterwards, the authentic voices of the teachers- Amal Mukherez and Haneen Khaled left us feeling impassioned and gave us a wonderful insight into the whole process of playwriting. 

The finale was a cacophony of applause from unmuted audience members. Claps, cheers and thankyous were bountiful and clear.

What a spectacular evening of drama , performance and discussion!

International solidarity is about many things: practical actions, political actions, protest, support and raising awareness. Sometimes it’s about just standing together. But mostly for me it’s about friendship. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano said, “ Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and we have a lot to learn from other people”

We all second that!

Celebrate your toothbrush!

‘Hey everybody! I’ve got this really useful tool! It’s made of purple and clear plastic, and it’s got bristles on the end (that’s the bit that you put in your mouth). I use it for brushing my teeth every day. It’s called a toothbrush!’

If I really said that to you, you’d probably think I was mad (perhaps you do anyway 🙂 ) but maybe we should celebrate our toothbrushes sometimes? Wherever we are in the world, we all know that a toothbrush does do a really important job. It’s something that we use every day of our lives and if we didn’t we’d inevitably suffer from bad breath and tooth decay, and experience a lower quality of life. It’s something so simple that we take for granted, but it can really contribute to our feelings of well-being and dignity.

This point is expressed beautifully and poetically in the play ‘Toothbrush’ originally performed by children from Khalil Oweida Prep. Girls School, Gaza. It takes place during the 2014 bombing of Gaza and a girl suddenly discovers that she doesn’t have a toothbrush with her and needs to go and buy one. She’s living under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, that no child anywhere should have to experience but, despite this, she just wants to feel like an ordinary child. She wants to be able to brush her teeth.

I wanted to make the point about toothbrushes too in our event last Friday in relation to drama and language learning. I’ve said this before, but I’ll keep banging on about it; drama isn’t just for the high achievers and extroverts, and those who already have an excellent level of English. It’s a seriously fun way to activate deeper long-term learning. Whilst our toothbrushes are a tool to look after our everyday dental health and hygiene, drama is a tool to look after our everyday mental health and hygiene.   

So as well as presenting the deserved winners of our Lockdown theatre competition with their Golden Toothbrushes, we also heard about how drama is being used in this way in classrooms in Gaza.

Sahar Salha, and her ex-student Ruquaya, talked about how they used a real event and cause for concern that was happening in their school -a girl suffering from cancer and needing to travel to Bethlehem for treatment – as a stimulus to create a play called ‘The fighter’. This served not only as a very personalised text in which their own English language development could be situated, but also as an awareness raising mechanism around the world about young people in Gaza who need urgent medical treatment and the difficulties they face in receiving it because of the blockade. It was a real tribute to Sahar and her students when we heard that some adult learners of English in Peru had acted and film their own interpretation of this play, and this version was shown on the night. Sahar and her students are currently rehearsing an Arabic version of ‘The fighter’ which they will perform remotely to children in hospitals in the West Bank on cancer awareness day.

Later in the event Jane Willis, Saida al Madhoon (a teacher at Asma Prep Girls UNRWA school A) and her ex-student Joudie discussed how drama might fit into a task-based learning methodology. They paid particular reference to Saida’s ingenious approach to scripting plays which involves all the students in the school. One play which was created in this way, again with a very worldwide universal theme,  was ‘Teddy and his teacher, Miss Thompson’. In fact two new versions of this play were submitted for the Lockdown theatre competition this year – one involving students from Argentina and Gaza working together, and the other which came third in the competition.

Finally, Adrian Underhill and Rida Thabet presented some wonderful strategies for processing, rehearsing, and eventually memorising the lines of a play so that learners can be helped to articulate them naturally, fluently, and from the heart. They demonstrated this with an extract from a play called ‘Live your life’. There have been so many different versions of this play performed by learners of English around the world, including one made by Japanese and Korean adult learners of English at Exeter University, and a live lockdown version made by young people in Argentina, Palestine, Romania and Spain (2nd place in the competition this year). Like all the plays shown in the event, I think it was chosen to be performed by so many different people because everyone can connect to it and because it’s so universal – just like a toothbrush!

You can watch the full recording of the event here.

Telling Tales Together – Storytelling with Little Un’s

A blog from Hands Up Project volunteer and storyteller, Cassandra Wye, full of brilliant ideas for storytelling with young learners. Thanks, Cassandra!

Why Tell Stories?

Stories introduce young audiences to the sounds of the English language. 

They may not fully understand the story but they can enjoy the experience of hearing a language spoken.

How can we make the sound of English exciting?

We can use our voices to help the teaching and learning of “phonics” – the sounds of English language

You can:

  • Elongate the sound of a word. 
  • Enunciate every syllable
  • Exaggerate the sounds in every word. 

Try making the sound of rain – plip, plop. 

How can you exaggerate that sound? 

So that the children can hear both the “pl” and the “op”?

We can use sound effects – to help the children understand a new word.

For example “Splish splash” – to emphasise the sound of the verb “swim”

We can use rhythm. Make patterns of sounds and words that are repeated over and over  so the children can recognise and join in with them.

We can use the MINIMUM of words to MAXIMUM effect.

Make a story short and simple. 

Then, it is easy to say and easy to remember – for both you and your children

But – we don’t have to use words at all

Storytelling communicates meaning with the minimum of shared language knowledge. I can work with audiences of 1000’s – 90% of whom do not speak English

How can I communicate a story without words?

Body language! 

We can use the whole of our body to communicate meaning. 

This is essential for young or new learners. 

If you show them the meaning of a word – it is much easier for them to understand.

  • SHOW how to swim with your arms
  • SHOW how to jump with your hands
  • SHOW how the rain falls with your finger-tips. 

Find a movement that shows the meaning of every word. 

  • Repeat the movement every time you say that word. 
  • Better still, as the children get more confident, ask them to suggest a movement.
  • Research has shown that combining a movement with a sound or word, improves a child’s ability to remember.
  • Asking them to suggest a movement for a new word – passes the ownership of the story onto them, putting them in control of the development of the tale

Working across modes of communicate reinforces learning

  • Small children learn through their bodies – so harness the power of movement to help develop their vocal and verbal skills. 
  • This is especially important for children with delayed language development

Repetition, repetition, repetition 

  • I use a LOT of repetition – of sounds, words and movement. 
  • This gives young children the cues they need to recognise a new word, understand its meaning and to join in. 
Another way that children can actively participate in a story

Active participation rather than passive listening

Encouraging children to join in – helps them to gain the confidence to speak aloud in English, WITHOUT pressure

  • First they follow you. 
  • Then they start to anticipate and say it before you do. 
  • Then they take over – and begin to tell the story without you. 

Grow Your Own Stories

You can guide children through the process of listening, joining in, taking over and creating their own version of a story heard- step by step over the course of your lessons  

It is a really effective way of helping children develop their story-making skills- without having to write.

There are so many ways very young children can be actively involved in language learning through storytelling.

  • Even beginners can come up with an idea for a new character, a new movement, a new sound effect.
  • Even a shy child can say or show “Yes” or “No”
  • Even a toddler can join in with the actions

    Why not give it a go – it is easier than you think!

Cassandra Wye is live on Facebook with Hands Up Project every Friday at 10am Palestine time . Come and join her demonstrating these techniques every week!

Hands Up Project Remote Theatre Debut in the USA

This week’s blog comes from volunteer Becca Young whose tireless efforts have led to our first contact in the U.S.A.

It’s understandable if you think that, for people in the USA, the inauguration of a president was the most spectacular event in the month of January 2021. But that means you must have missed out on a much more auspicious occasion: the North American debut of Lockdown Theatre by the Hands Up Project, via a live broadcast on Facebook with the Palestine Museum US, on Friday, January 24th.

The Palestine Museum is located in Woodbridge, Connecticut, and operates under the directorship of Faisal Saleh. According to its website, the purpose of the museum is “to celebrate Palestinian cultural and artistic achievements, [and] … to tell the Palestinian story to US and global audience through works of art, film, literature, and mixed media”. Therefore this new cooperation between the Hands Up Project and the Palestine Museum is a wonderful fit, and an excellent way to introduce Hands Up to a US audience. After an introduction by Nancy Nesvet of the Palestine Museum, Nick Bilbrough had a chance to tell the story of how Hands Up Remote Theatre came about, from a 2017 conversation of English teachers who decided to have a play competition in order to provide a forum for Palestinian children to tell their story to the world.

Then Nick shared the video of a play from the first year of the competitions, entitled, ‘I have a dream’. The play opens with a group of young people, who have lost their parents, speaking about their dreams: one girl wants to be a model and another wants to be the president so she can “make life worth living”. Of the three boys in the play, one wants to be a doctor, one an astronaut, and the third wants to be a professional musician. As each person tells his or her dream, the audience sees that person living out their dream. Next, an actor named Deema recites the words to the Abba song, ‘I believe in angels’. The video concludes quite movingly with the students’ teacher Esraa writing them a note, “Pain is temporary, but glory is eternal.” After the video ended, Nick shared the happy news that Deema was able to live out her dream when she was able to study in the US for a year as an exchange student. He added how the young people of Palestine often speak about their dreams, not only as just seen so vividly in this particular play, but in many of the plays done for the Hands Up Project. 

Faisal Saleh & Nancy Nesvet welcome The Hands Up Project for a very special collaboration

Nick explained that, for the second year of competitions, the organizers decided to ask students to record their plays in a single take rather than being able to edit them. In that way, the actors would be challenged to learn all their lines, as would happen for a live performance. It also adds a stronger participatory dimension to the plays, because even with only a cellphone, people can record a play. Then, in the third year, the world went into lockdown, including in Gaza, but Nick explained that, “The people of Palestine didn’t give up. They developed a new genre of remote performances called Lockdown Theatre.” 

As examples of each of these major developments, Nick shared two more recorded plays. First, he showed a play performed in a single take, called, ‘I can’. It portrays a boy who can see his dreams and tries to show them to his friends, who look down on him (literally and figuratively), telling him the many reasons his dreams can’t come true and placing barriers in front of him. The final barrier has the all-too-familiar red circle with a white center stripe indicating, ‘no entry’ or ‘wrong way’. The play ends with the boy breaking through the barriers, arms held high, and the words, “I am a human” written across his arms as he comes towards the camera, shouting “Yes, yes,” as dramatic music plays in the background.

The next play was recorded from a live performance in a Zoom session. The name of the play was, ‘An exile inside the homeland’. The play begins powerfully with only two hands appearing in an otherwise black background. One of the actors moves into view in the Zoom window. The actors are two girls, playing the role of a father and son who have been separated from each other. The son speaks of the pain at not having his father to share his achievements in life. The father speaks of the pain of the bitter reality of exile inside his own homeland, because he is in prison. The play ends with their hands reaching out for each other, a reminder of how, when visited in prison, families aren’t allowed to touch their loved one, but can only touch the two sides of the glass barrier between them. In the current lockdown, similarly, many can only reach out to their loved one through the barrier of the glass Zoom screen, so it resonates strongly with the audience as well.

“I couldn’t say goodbye”
A play written & performed by Eman and Marwa with support from their teacher Amal Mukhairez

After these remarkable videos, Nick introduced two plays performed live by the actors during the event. The first play was from the 2020 competition and was called, ‘I couldn’t say goodbye’. It tells the story of a mother grieving for her son who has died. At the end, the son comes to her as if in a vision and reassures her that he is now safe and at peace, bringing her great comfort and setting her free, just as her son has also been set free.  The second play, ‘Oh my home’, makes innovative use of the green screen in order to have a girl play the role of the sea. As the sea, she speaks of its pain as the place where people lose their lives as they try to escape the occupation by boat. The play ends with a plea for people not to risk escape by the sea but to remain in Palestine, despite the dangers and suffering, because it is their home, without which, we are told, their hearts will not beat.

Asked about the significance of performing live plays via the internet, Nick pointed out that although it is nerve-wracking and stressful, there is an important connection with the audience. At any moment, something could go wrong. That makes it beautiful because, while something could go wrong, something could also go wonderfully right, as seen in these incredible performances. 

The two actors Nour and Haya from “Oh my home’ spoke movingly about their feelings when performing the plays. Nour said they are able to clearly and effectively share their message to the world because they do so honestly. Being able to participate in the plays, she added, makes her very proud, because she can share an important international issue that everyone should be aware of. Haya continued that thought by saying, “Being able to give our message to the whole world is the greatest achievement of my life”. 

The teacher Shoroq, discussing her students’ play, ‘Exile in my homeland’, said that in order to convey the reality of the situation in Palestine, they must express the deep feelings of their hearts, and she believes her students are able to do so with remarkable poise and style. She thanked Nick and the Hands Up Project for connecting her with Gaza, a chance she had never had before and that has moved her deeply. Another teacher, Imad, whose students performed the play ‘I can’, said that the Hands Up Project is a unique outlet for the children of Palestine. Through it, he has discovered remarkable talent among his students. He also said that doing the plays has provided a bridge for him both emotionally and physically to the outside world. 

Teacher Shoroq Daraghmeh discussing “Exile in my Homeland”

Nick pointed out that the students and teachers from the winning plays each are given the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank. For Imad and his fellow Palestinians, it is like going to Paradise. “Offer me a trip to London or to Jerusalem, and I choose Jerusalem every time”, Imad said with conviction. Haya, the student, spoke of her joy at getting to visit the West Bank and of the friends she made there, with whom she continues to stay in contact. The teacher Amal, whose students’ performances have won in two of the past three years of the competition, said that the plays are her students’ only connection to the world outside Gaza, and also serve as a peaceful response to their difficult situations. They are acting, of course, but what they are communicating to the world is what is all too painfully real in their lives. 

Faisal Saleh of the Palestine Museum noted that the music at the conclusion of the plays was “Mawtini,” considered the informal or “second” national anthem of Palestine. The lyrics were composed by the Palestinian poet ʾIbrāhīm Ṭūqān.

The Hands Up Project is deeply grateful to the Palestine Museum US for its willingness to hold this joint event and allow the voices of the people of Palestine to reach a wider audience in the USA. It was the first event with the museum but we certainly hope it will not be the last.

Popcorn, Welcome To Earth, and Toothbrush, the three anthologies of plays from the competitions, are available online, both from the Palestine Museum, for those in the US, and directly from the Hands Up Project’s website.

To view the live event and witness these remarkable plays directly, they are available on the Palestine Museum’s Facebook page at the following site:

Together we learn, Together We Grow !

Haneen Khaled’s moving post tells us that war children can still find their own peace and express their humanity, joy and sorrow through artistic collaboration. And I’d like to quote another war child – and Hands Up supporter – Ana Begovic, who said “Our task is not to fight, but to grow, learn, support and love – in unison”.

We perceive the world through our senses and we capture hearts through our warmth and kindness and we do both through drama and theatre . 

One of the things I encountered throughout my work with the Hands Up Project is that, among all the arts , drama and theatre are collaborative, and this is surely what makes them so splendid and deeply connected to changing the world .
The Hands Up Project started as a drop, and now it has expanded to become the ocean in which all of us – teachers and students – dive deeply to explore ourselves. Now,  the Hands Up Project has become widely recognized and globally valued. With lots of link-ups all over the globe,  I can say that the Hands Up lets the whole world into a small room with lots of shiny screens and masses of children from all over the world connecting to each other, establishing their goals and painting their dreams together irrespective of how different their backgrounds are ! They interact with each other and flow together in a river of thoughts! Those link- ups go far beyond being  only a learning tool and are also an outlet for those young learners in Palestine who were born to find themselves trapped into their country . However, with these link-ups , they are able to climb every mountain and cross every ocean to tell their stories all over the globe . Being connected to multi–cultural contexts enables them to stretch to places they could never go otherwise, and enables them to pour their golden ideas into other people’s crystal cups to turn into a kind of delicious nectar for anyone thirsty for creativity . 

One of those very amazing link-ups is our collaboration with the War Child Museum ( a museum in Sarajevo – Bosnia and Herzegovina)  which takes care of kids who live in the areas of conflict and encourages them to talk about their experiences and dreams . It was a remarkable day when our students in Gaza linked to kids in Sarajevo on World Peace Day and they performed different kinds of arts to each other . Everyone was overwhelmed with joy and happiness to see how kids from both countries are more expressive than all the masterpieces about peace. They prove that peace is when we combine feelings, emotions, dance, music and drama to share our humanity. They were the living proof that peace is the ability to entertain people and please them to the degree of seeing your happiness shining in their eyes and knowing that your own are reflecting the same joy.  And that’s what we saw in the innocent eyes of those kids from both countries on that wonderful day! 

That was a starting point, then we were informed that the museum wants to include a regular exhibit for our kids’ work . I feel so honored being asked to collect and document  materials from our young people in Palestine to be shared in the museum . Those materials could be objects, drawings, pieces of writing, something they feel proud of or even stories they write or plays they have created or performed . I believe that we are all in this together and this is something worth putting in extra effort for . Therefore , if you are a teacher in Palestine and you would like to be part of this with your students , please join our Zoom sessions later in February to talk about it in detail and show examples of our work . For more details , please send an email to : 

Thank you for the Hands Up Project and War Child Museum for watering us to grow and flourish together!