By David Heathfield
‘We always have our dreams’ 13-year-old Shaza in Gaza tells 73-year-old Japanese Hiroshi who, along with Eunji and KC from South Korea are in one of the classes I teach in Exeter, UK. The Internet connection is weak at both ends so we huddle around my mobile in the classroom. Video is impossible so we are straining to understand the erratic audio. But not to worry, the message comes across loud and clear. ‘Thanks to The Hands Up Project, we can communicate with people all over the world through the Internet,’ adds Razan.
Shaza, Razan, Sally, Malak and Marwa from Beit Hanoun prep girls school A Gaza, with the support of their teachers Manal Ismail and Rinan Al Muzanin, devised, scripted, rehearsed, performed and video-recorded a five-minute play which they entered in the 2017 Hands Up Project playwriting and performing competition. They have been doing online storytelling classes with Nick BiIbrough for a couple of years and are used to creative and playful English learning. I had the privilege of being one of the judges and was totally blown away by all the entries I watched in early January. Live Your Life stuck in my memory because of the simple and powerful message that families need to support their daughters’ desire to follow their dreams, and also because of the sheer dynamism and commitment of the five girls’ performances. So when Nick Bilbrough published his article and the script of Live Your Life in the IATEFL Young Learners SIG magazine , I couldn’t wait to show it to my class of five adult Japanese and South Korean students. They were amazed to read and learn about The Hands Up Project and liked the script so much, especially when they watched the girls’ vibrant performance on youtube.
Hiro, Eunji and KC closely related to the storyline and characters in Live Your Life and talked about the universality of the theme, particularly referring to changing attitudes in Japan and South Korea. They were eager to rehearse and perform the play themselves in the following day’s two-hour lesson so that they could show their version to the girls in Gaza who had created it. The five students cast themselves in the five roles and I suggested that they start learning their lines for the next day.
At the start of the next day’s class the students did their first read-through and we focused on pronunciation and emotion. Then, to my amazement, they put their scripts down and did it all over again. They had memorised the lines overnight, such was their enthusiasm. Learning by heart appears to be a skill many Japanese and South Korean people develop when they are young. We turned the classroom into a simple set and the students tried out a few bits of costume and props I had brought in. Immediately these students, who, with the exception of Eunji in the role of the controlling mother, had never done any theatre in their lives, threw themselves into rehearsal and, with a little direction, they were ready to do their final video-recorded performance five minutes before the end of the class.
Their performance had quite a different feel from what the girls in Gaza had achieved. The energy was gentler and the pace was slower, but the sincerity was beautiful to witness. The simple explanation is that they were performing for an audience they cared about. Immediately after they finished they recorded a spontaneous message for the girls in Gaza.
The next time I saw my class a week later, they had been reading about the situation in Gaza. They watched their own performance which I had uploaded to youtube on a private setting and were glad to make it public. After reading more about Gaza from the UNRWA site https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/gaza-strip , they decided they wanted to write an email to the girls and their teacher, Manal (see below). KC, who played the daughter with dreams of being a writer, chose an uplifting poem to accompany the message. In the next lesson they worked on their pronunciation and made a recording of the poem to send the girls.
And then yesterday we made the phone call. Each of the five girls in Gaza expressed themselves powerfully, each addressing the student in Exeter who played the same role she herself had played.
Nothing is more powerful in language learning than theatre when there is a desire to communicate as best you can with an audience. Thanks to The Hands Up Project for making this possible. The procedure described here is easy, natural, motivating and can be adapted to just about any teaching context. Let’s get students around the world performing the plays created by these amazing young people in Palestine. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwTmDrk314J41swBDlxDzWMLipGmmYFRM
Hello Manal, Malak, Shaza, Razan, Sally and Marwa
Congratulations on your amazing play ‘Live Your Life’. I teach English to international adult students at INTO University of Exeter in SW England. I was honoured to be one of the judges for the HUP playwriting competition and I fell in love with your creation. A class of international students who I am teaching, in response to watching your play, wanted to stage it themselves and send it as a tribute to you. Here is their own version of Live Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4A6xZQ74iY&t=66s along with a video appreciating your creation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVfvLe0E9EQ. Yesterday they read about Gaza on the UNRWA website and today they have written you messages here below. Hiro, Ryotaro and Ayana are from Japan and Eunji and KC are from South Korea. Ryotaro who played the role of father, like Malak, finished his course last Friday so there is no message from him here – before he left, he told me that he really enjoyed the experience.
Many best wishes to you all
Dear Shaza Hamad,
I am writing this e-mail to thank you for your play, “LIVE YOUR LIFE”. Our teacher David Heathfield was kind enough to let us see a nice video of your play last week in his class. We were so impressed that we laughed one minute, sympathized the next. I, as a grandfather of two boys myself, was truly convinced that family issues, especially the relationships between the generations, are so common beyond countries, races and cultures.
To your surprise, we, five students, two Korean, three Japanese played your script. Naturally ours is poor given that we only had just two hours rehearsal.
But after we knew more about the extraordinary situation you were in, my simple thanks have changed to my sincere admiration for you. As I have never been to Gaza, I even cannot imagine the real life there, but it should be a very tough one.
I hope you live strong and brisk as ever and I pray you get peace and independence back as soon as possible.
Hiro Aoto from Exeter UK
Dear Razan Hweihi and your friends,
Thank you for sharing your great video with us. I really enjoyed watching it and I was really impressed.
I acted the role of younger sister like you! The younger sister has a great dream and she tries to persuade her mother. Because I couldn’t act very well like you, I respect you. I think your acting makes people cheer up.
If you enjoy our play, I will be happy.
I read an article about the situation in Gaza and I was so shocked about it and also I felt so guilty for you because I didn’t know about that.
I really admire you guys because even in a very difficult situation, you never give up having dreams and receiving education.
I hope your dreams come true and the situation will get better.
Ayana Murai (the Japanese woman who acted the role of younger sister)
Dear Sally & your friends
Hi, Sally! I’m Eunji from South Korea. I’m studying in the UK. Because my teacher showed us your video, we tried to act it out! And I acted the role of mother like you. It was a little difficult to play because of many lines! How did you remember them? Finally I memorized them all, but I couldn’t focus on my facial expression and accent. However your performance was strong.
Especially I like the scene where the mother walked around the calendar. It was a good expression of the passing of time. I was impressed. You acted the characteristics of the mother really well and it was a very nice delivery of words. So I really respect you. Of course, I liked the acting of other friends too. Haha. After acting, I was interested in Gaza. So I searched some information through the internet. Also I could learn what I didn’t know about Gaza.
Thank you for creating the video and the fantastic acting! I really enjoyed it and had a good time. I hope your dreams become true!
Hi Marwa Hamad!
My name is HyonJu Ham(KC).
I am the person who took the same role which you acted in the play “Live your life”.
Now, I am studying English in the UK and I will go back to my hometown in South Korea next month. During our English class, our teacher David introduced us your play and I really enjoyed it.
When David proposed that we just tried to perform the play which you guys did, I felt nervous, because I am a passive and introverted person.
I had never thought about myself as an actress in my life and whenever I saw plays, I thought that actors and actresses came from another world.
Anyway, after several rehearsals, we performed the play and we were able to watch the film which we made.
And the thing I felt after watching our film was how difficult it is for people who perform plays to express themselves and how talented they are.
Performing plays is totally different from watching plays.
So, now I know that you have a talent, especially, I looked at your strong voice, gestures and confidence in admiration.
I am really looking forward to seeing your great future.
Here is a poem for you:
Believe in Yourself
Set your standards high
You deserve the best.
Try for what you want
And never settle for less.
Believe in yourself
No matter what you choose.
Keep a winning attitude
And you can never lose.
Think about your destination
But don’t worry if you stray
Because the most important thing
Is what you’ve learned along the way.
Take all that you’ve become
To be all that you can be.
Soar above the clouds
And let your dreams set you free.
-Jillian K. Hunt-
I wish you live as you want and achieve whatever you want. Thank you for sharing your video and I hope to see your video again.^^
HyonJu Ham (KC)