Going with the flow…

‘When people are aligned to their purpose, when the gap between values and behaviours closes, what people experience is a stream of ease’ (Lewin 2000)

I first heard this Roger Lewin quote about 10 years ago. It was in a workshop for teachers about leadership in ELT and it was led by my friend and colleague Adrian Underhill. It really struck a chord with me – so much so that the very next day I quit my job at a UK University and decided I would try to do something which was more aligned to my purpose.

At the time I was teaching English as a foreign language to students who were being pushed through courses to get them ready to do a degree in the UK. The materials imposed on us were very dull and dry, the students didn’t seem to want to be there (and neither did the teachers!) and the whole process of language teaching just felt like a series of hoops to jump through – no creativity, no fun, no flow..

For me what Lewin is saying here is that when people really believe in what they’re doing, everything just seems to flow and they are capable of achieving almost anything. It doesn’t feel like work – it just feels like ‘a stream of ease’.

When I started doing online sessions under the Hands Up umbrella that was the feeling I had and I think it’s the feeling that so many of our volunteers have when they connect to young people in Palestine for their own online sessions for the Hands Up Project. It’s also the feeling I still have when I do sessions these days. Much has been written about the importance of motivating learners but I think teacher motivation is also something we need to emphasise, to nurture and to celebrate. And if the teacher’s experiencing flow because they are fully committed to what they’re doing then I think there’s a very good chance that the learners are too.

Schools in Palestine have been closed since March but this hasn’t stopped us from enjoying ourselves doing Facebook live sessions and zoom sessions for kids at home. And we’re really pleased to announce that after our two week break everything will be starting again from Monday.

Now, I got a real kick out of the performance aspects of the session below – playing the role of the Kamishibai storyteller with a bicycle and trying to speak Japanese, as well as playing back the stories of the participants as they came in.  What motivates you as a volunteer with HUP, or as a teacher in any other context, may be entirely different of course. So when do you experience flow as a teacher? Please write a comment below.


Lewin, R (2000) Complexity; Life at the edge of Chaos ; University of Chicago Press

Humanity and love in the time of COVID-19

This week we have a blog post written by long term Hands Up Project volunteer, Ashraf Kuhail. Ashraf is a very committed member of our HUP community, a brilliant teacher (and newly appointed supervisor) and one of my best friends in Gaza.
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COVID- 19 is considered to be one of the worst crises humanity has witnessed in the modern age. The worst thing is that it attacks families and societies and destroys relationships.  It’s thrown up the selfishness hidden inside mankind and unveiled so many horrible fallacies of fake kindness and the facade of prestige.
But crises also bring the best of humanity to the surface. They reveal that there’s so much love and goodness inside people – enough to wipe out all the hatred and aggression made by politics and politicians. Crises prove that there are so many people around the world who can convert feelings of fear and horror into happiness and smiles.
In the early days of this pandemic, and at a point where everyone just felt like collapsing, so many kind hearted people insisted on polishing the heartbreak and sadness and changing them into unity, love and smiles.
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Increasing numbers of Hands Up Project volunteers from all over the world devote so much of their time and effort to helping thousands of disadvantaged  Palestinian children in defeating internal fears which they’ve lived with for so many years.
Specifically, inside the Gaza strip, hundreds of thousands of children are suffering from the ongoing blockade and in practice have lived under quarantine for more than a decade.  These kids need real opportunities to express themselves and to tell their full stories. They need to learn, to play and to smile as other kids around the world do.
What the hands up project offers to them is really heroic and holistic.  A few weeks ago 18 beautiful plays out of over 160 have been declared as winners in The hands up project 2020 playwriting competition. These plays carry very strong heart-touching messages showing that in the time of pain, fear and crises, there’s always lots of hidden beauty which need to be polished and brought to the surface. It is the duty of all good people  who love freedom to highlight this when needed.
Palestinians and Gazans really owe all you volunteers of HUP, loads of love and appreciation for everything that you do, and on behalf of all Palestinians we wish you all, safe times and life. This pandemic, sooner or later, will end, but the seeds of beauty you’re planting will one day bear fruit and will last for ever.
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From your story to our story

Last week we published the names of the 18 winning plays of this year’s remote theatre competition. This week we’re publishing this very moving piece by Ana Begovic, one of the 70 judges who had the unenviable task of having to choose her favourite plays.



Two years ago, I was invited to be one of the judges for the Hands Up Project remote theatre competition, and I feel I should share some thoughts on this amazing project. This charity provides English through drama and online sessions to children in Palestine living in refugee and displacement camps across the country, mainly in Gaza. I readily accepted and since then I’ve enjoyed the experience and privilege with each return of the remote theatre competition.

I wouldn’t like to make this post political, as it would be beneath me. I’ve got friends of all faiths and backgrounds and generally avoid crying against one or the other side in any conflict. The reason is quite simple: I was a child in a war-torn country. I shared my room with my refugee grandfather when I was 7. I experienced bombing of my city when I was 13. I remember food and supply shortages, power and water cuts, sitting my first tests in my jacket and gloves as school had no heating at -15 degrees Celsius. I remember holding my mother to comfort her at 3 o’clock in the morning as she screamed watching a report from her home town in Bosnia and Herzegovina on TV: Mostar’s landmark bridge was being blown up, and she had no idea whether her family, still in the town at that point, were alive. The next day I had an important test at school and the only thing I wanted was to get an A to cheer my mum up.

With such experiences in life people mature before their time.

And that is what I see in the eyes of young Palestinian performers each year. That specific sadness and depth may be beyond those who don’t share the pain of growing up in a country forsaken by gods and men alike but commented on heavily by both. After the war, we say in my country, everyone is a general.

These children don’t complain in their sketches – on the contrary. They discuss issues common to all children: parent-child relationships, local culture, school, hopes and dreams for life, health…but unlike their peers from the more privileged countries, you feel that they care. They truly care. Keeping fit or having friends to rely on becomes more pressing an issue when one’s dancing so close to the edge of a precipice. I never felt that children acted, they more likely lived their short plays, thus doing what’s often beyond many involved in professional theatre: to satisfy the original purpose of the dramatic art. Drama was sacred to its inventors, the Ancient Greeks, and its aim was to purge spectators’ souls of feelings and thoughts widely frowned upon. Nowadays we turn to professionals to stir such emotions in us; alas, the best of them tend to keep a dark secret: their best performances are memorable precisely because of their full identification, a merger if you will, with the character – and that transcends the boundaries of their trade. Much like a child’s character development which involves experimenting with many ‘selves’ over time.

Well done to all young performers, and my gratitude to Hands Up Project for another year of supporting children in need of a semblance of a regular childhood. I hope one day they do better with the world they have inherited from us.


When I wrote the post above, the world still hadn’t gone into lockdown over COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many have now experienced the daily life of children in Palestine with restrictions on movement, closure of schools and financial insecurity of families. Those of us with similar previous experiences have sadly got used to the world’s divisions and injustice. Lockdown anxieties came as nothing, or hardly anything new. People can adjust quite quickly if thrown in at the deep end – even when they have deemed it impossible. Take it from the seasoned survivors. Still, if you look right into our eyes, they might give a rebellious “See what it’s like?” – not out of spite, but out of wish to share in balance for once. We are one fragile branch of the Earth’s core tree that cannot survive without the trunk, nor without other cells. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that we are to learn this lesson with our hearts pounding with the sight of empty streets of our cities. But shall we emerge from this temptation ready for what one of my favourites, William Blake, called the “Brotherhood of Man”? Quite intentionally and well before his time he shared a prophetic idea that the world needed healing through realisation that we all are mere cells of a giant organism. Our task is therefore not to fight, but to grow, learn, support and love – in unison. From my isolation, I pray it finally dawns on those who hold the power of decision-making. Or that we hold them responsible with more zeal. Either way, a change of ways and hearts is not only welcome but necessary.


The winners of the 2020 Remote theatre competition

After much deliberation and extremely difficult decisions by the panel of over 70 judges from around the world, we are very proud to announce the 18 winners (listed alphabetically) of the 2020 Hands Up Project remote theatre competition. We would like to offer our huge congratulations to them all.

A bird without wings was created and performed by Omar Abo Shmala (10), Yousif Ashour (10), Abd Allh Abu Libda(10), and Fajer Abu Shamala (10) from Al-Bureij Elem. Boys’ B’ UNRWA school, with support from their teacher Asma Falah Zaqout.

‘All mine’ was created and performed by Sara Abu El-Kaeir 11, Nada Abu Nada 11 and Reema Jabr 11, from Nuseirat Prep A Girls School, with support from their teacher Hadeel Mayyat.

‘An exile inside the home country’ was created and performed by Raw’aa Azem Abu Arra (15), Ola Muhammad Abu Arra(15), and Sarah Amjad Abu Arra (13) from Japanese Primary School for Girls, with support from their teacher Shorouq Daraghmeh.

‘Behind bars of silence’ was created and performed by Abdelrahman Samer Al-Ghossein (14 years old), Baraa Mohammed Jaber (13 years old), Khaled Shadi Abu Riala (13 years old) from Nuseirat Prep “E” Boys School, with support from their teacher Abdelrahman M. A. Mikkawi.

‘Helen Keller’ was created and performed by Dareen Mabhouh (9 years), Yara Lubad (9 years), Salma Abo Naser (9 years), Reman Rayan (9 years) and Wa’ad Abo Salem (9 years) from Beit Lahia Elem Co-ed School, with support from their teacher Mervat Talouli.
‘I can’t rest at my home’ was created and performed by Nada Abu Khatla(11), Lana Al-Regeb (11) and Alaa Eawaida (11) from Bani Suhaila Prep Girls School, with support from their teacher Abeer Taneera.
‘I couldn’t say goodbye’ was created and performed by Iman Ridwan and Marwa Husam from Rimal Prep Girls school B , with support from their teacher Amal Mukhairez.
‘I have a right’ was created and performed by Jameel EL Tahrawi & Mohammad El baba from Bureij Prep boys A School, with support from their teacher Mohamed Hussein Turkhan.
‘It’s only us’ was created and performed by, Jinan Eldaghma (14) ,Sara Abo Dagga ( 13) ,Siba Abu Thaher (12), Raghad Abu Jamea(13) and Roa’a Radwan(13) From Abasan Prep Girls School , with support from their teacher Amani Akram Kullab.
‘Marah’ was created and performed by Marah Yousif Sha’aban El Siksik (14), Fatma Ashraf khader Hneef( 14), Marim Jamal Mohamed Eid ( 14) and Nada Sa’ady Sa’ady El Aloul (12), from Rafah Prep Girls A School , with support from their teacher Hanan abed El Gader El Nawajha.

‘Nobody can destroy your dreams’ was created and performed by, Siwar shaat (13) years old , Qamar Abu Fakher (13) years old, Dana Abu Rahma(13)years old , Saja Shaat (13) years old and Tala Abu Abdou(13) years old from Al Madina Al Munawwarah girls Prep. School , with support from their teacher Soha Abed

‘Oh my home’ was created and performed by Nour Ziada 14, Haya Orouq 14, Rana Al-Basha 14, Farah Abu Obaid 12 and Doaa Abu Sharar 13 from Asmaa Prep School “B” for girls with support from their teacher Haneen Jadalla
‘The olive tree’ was created and performed by NAGHAM HEJAZI :14 YEARS ,MEERA JABER :14 YEARS , ZEINA ZAKOUT :14 YEARS, RAGHA AL KHATEEB : 14 YEARS and YARA AL RAFATI : 12 YEARS from Mamounia prep (A) Girls School , with support from their teacher Rana Mustafa Musallam.
‘The stone of freedom’ was created and performed by, Lama Abu Shqair , Nisreen Al Bayok, Lana Oda , Hala Abu Azeez and Mona Abu AL hsain from Al Fukhari Prep. Girls School, with support from their teacher Inas Younis Shurrab.
‘The unknown fate’ was created and performed by Malak Al batniji – Shahed Al Ashi – Roaa Salem – Aya Alhour – Rajad Al Aklouk , from Mamounia prep school “A” for Girls , with support from their teacher Shereen Hamed Lubbad.
‘When thoughts clash’ was created and performed by, Mariam Mosa 12 years, Emilia El- romy 13 years,Teya Shaat 13 years, Batool Khaood 14 years and Deema Hamdan 14 years from Khan younis Prep A girl school, with support from their teacher, Alaa Wadi

Read! Write! Act!

So finally in the midst of a world crisis, and after much deliberation and agonising decisions by the judges from around the world we are almost ready to announce the 18 winning plays of the 2019/2020 Hands Up Project Playwriting competition.

Competitions are great; they can provide an incentive to produce work of exceptional quality (and yet again young people in Palestine have surpassed themselves with their brilliance, their  commitment, and their innovative storytelling and performance skills) but with over 150 plays submitted, it’s also inevitable that some excellent plays are not amongst the winners.

So at this point it’s important to remind ourselves of why we put on the play writing and performing competition every year. We do it so that young people in Palestine may have an opportunity to develop their English in motivating  and learning rich ways and that they may tell their untold stories to the world.

This fact is beautifully illustrated in Inas Younis Shurrab’s post below about how she turned the competition into a wonderful multi-skilled learning opportunity for all.


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Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, but thinking what no one else has thought. It’s not what you look at the matters, it’s what you see. Critical and creative thinking is more than a skill for learning; it’s a skill for life. Everyone – not just our students, can benefit from enhanced thinking skills both in and out of the classroom.

Making a play out of a short story can be a good way to enable students to think about how to write a complete script which can be performed on  stage and deciding on all the required materials to act this play successfully. The challenge of their creative thinking will increase if we ask them to change the title ,the end or the whole story to tell us  something about their life. They should keep the story in their minds but to think about telling things differently.

Towards the Top ,is a school initiative about students making plays out of English short stories . It was presented to them as a competition between different teams to encourage them to do their best. Every team has their own short story.

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The Target group:

The excellent and talented students at Al Fukhari Prep.Girls School from grade 5 to grade 9.

Time: October and November 2019

The Main Idea:

Students work in teams to read  and understand an English short story. They then transfer it into a play in English and Arabic.

The Aims of the competition:

1-  To get students to practice the four skills of English (reading , writing , speaking and listening) in order to improve their language.

2- To enhance the creative and the critical thinking of students.

3-  To develop students self-confidence and team work.

4- To produce some purposeful plays made by the students of Al Fukhari School.

5 – To determine the most talented girls from different grades to write and perform in English.

The stages and how to win:

In order to win in the competition , the team have to pass four stages and to gain four golden stars to reach the medal of the winner. The Four stages are:

1- Stage 1: To pass this stage, the whole team should read and understand the story completely and to complete the first page in the competition handbook. They will be tested orally to make sure of that.

2- Stage 2: In this stage , the team of students should write their own play based on the short story . After checking the written script of the play , the team will gain the second golden star.

3- Stage 3: The team perform the play in front of the leading committee of the competition. Then they will have the third golden star.

4- Stage 4: In the last stage , the team have to make some changes in the play (story ) title and script to create a new end for the story . In this case the team will gain the fourth golden star.

To see the presentation of the four stages see this video

Notes :

1- The given short stories are of different levels of difficulty to suit the level of different grades of students.

2-Every team will be asked to choose a name for them based on the moral of their story.

3-  The responsible committee will guide all the teams and give them the needed feedback and advice to do their best.

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Locked down but Looking Out..

There’s no doubt that the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic has thrown education around the world into chaos. According to UNESCO, 85% of the world’s learners are not going to school right now. This means more than one and a half billion children are stuck at home!

But as we know, out of chaos there can sometimes arise incredible creativity, especially where Palestine is concerned. After all, Palestinian teachers have been providing quality education and dealing with the chaos imposed on them by external forces for many years now. They have consistently been finding creative ways to help children learn despite all the challenges – and to enable young people’s art to be noticed and their voices heard.

As a response to the current crisis, HUP has already reinvented ourselves and changed pretty much everything that we do. By immediately moving our sessions from #Zoom to #FacebookLive we’re coping with the school closures and enabling kids to access our team of volunteers in their own homes.

And next week we’re going to introduce three new creative ideas into the mix and hope that these will be ways not only to support the educational needs of young people in Palestine, but also to support other young people around the world under lockdown who want to practice and develop their English.

Mighty Pens – Saturdays, 12pm Palestine time.

As you may know we have been doing lots of storytelling sessions and grade specific English for Palestine sessions on Facebook live. This weekly session will also take place on facebook Live on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/handsupproject/videos/ but it will be an opportunity for young people to get some support creating poems, chants, stories and plays. It’s suitable for young people under 16, and everyone is welcome wherever you are.

Intercultural Show and tell – Mondays, 2pm Palestine  

This weekly session will take place by #zoom (downloadable here https://zoom.us/download ) and will be limited to a maximum of 15 students aged 16 or under from anywhere in the world. The idea is that everyone brings along a personal possession which means something to them. It could be a favourite book, something which represents their hobby, a picture of someone they admire etc. They’ll then have a chance to talk about it to the others and one of our volunteers will provide supportive feedback. See this blog post I wrote about it a while back, and here’s an example of yours truly doing it as a beginner learner of Arabic as a second language (If I can do it anybody can! 🙂 ) Please send us an email at info@handsupproject.org to reserve a place.


Students versus Teachers – Wednesdays 2pm Palestine time

This will be a chance for students everywhere to get revenge on teachers for asking them questions all the time! 🙂 The idea is that students from around the world come up with some difficult general knowledge questions in English for the remote volunteer to answer. It’s a chance to practice language related to other areas of their curriculum in English. The students will score a point for each question that the remote volunteer fails to answer correctly. There’ll be a different theme each week and to kick us off on Tuesday we’ll focus on the theme of Science. (Please see the examples below from our classroom based versions in Palestine) The session is suitable for young people under 16, and limited to 15 students maximum. Please send us an email at info@handsupproject.org to reserve a place.



The irresistible power of storytelling in a time of a crisis: stories for survival

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This post is by Haneen Jadalla, teacher at Asma Prep girls UNRWA school, Gaza

It’s the start of a very beautiful day and the sun spills its rays on the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean, declaring a new beginning , new hopes to be spread from the horizon and piles of wishes to touch the clouds above.

Meanwhile, a rich – deep voice starts to tell not breaking news nor a scientific fact but – a story . This story melts the hearts of the people who are  listening  and empowers them to face the hardships of life. Story telling is the art that merges the acts of mind and the acts of heart. It’s how you put your body , your soul and emotions in the context of language.

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As schools in Palestine are closed because of Corona virus, The Hands Up Project has recently launched daily facebook live storytelling sessions for kids to take part in in their own homes. Here, in this blog post, I would like to talk about the real impact of these storytelling sessions on English language learners at this very challenging time.

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I believe that learning can happen at any place and at any time irrespective of all the obstacles which are placed in their way. When children are free from the classroom walls, from rules, from marks , from pens and pencils, maybe they can travel even more easily by their imagination with the story telling sessions far away. They live the actions of the stories in their mind, smell the aromatic scents of the scenes as if they are really with them, and hear the music in their own silence to cheer their spirits in spite of all the hard times they pass through.


Learning through online stories and being exposed to different styles of storytellers can be immensely effective for the students – maybe even more so than what happens in their regular classes. They learn how to how to use language functionally, and how to be creative and brilliant with it at the same time. Its also about sharing and discussing values, gathering all together and feeling united, sharing cultural aspects and even creating a future generation of story tellers . Moreover , it is a kind of survival for those learners wherever they are. It  helps them to escape from being stuck at home in self – isolation to a more motivating international cultural context.

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At the end of each live session the volunteers suggest tasks for the kids to do as a follow up. This could be creating  their own videos as a kind of reflection on the stories that have been told, re-telling the story, creating a chant to practise the language or even singing their favourite English song.  Getting students to create things in English is the ultimate goal we wish to achieve with our language learners. It practices new language but also makes their voices heard loudly and clearly  all over the world.

I strongly believe that the hands up project has succeeded in helping these kids to survive every challenge that life throws at them. It helps them put their their hands up high to celebrate their glory while telling them a story.

Haneen Jadalla, teacher at Asma Prep girls UNRWA school, Gaza, March 2020

Long live Facebook live…

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Because of schools being closed in Palestine we can’t do any of our regular link HUP ups via zoom so, until the situation changes, we’re doing 3 Facebook live sessions a day from our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/handsupproject/ ) The sessions are for Palestinian kids and they can access them from their own homes while they can’t go to school.

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Here’s the timetable.

All times in Palestine time 10 am 12pm 4pm
Sundays Story based session for 12 and under aged kids English for Palestine sessions – Grade 9 Story based session for 12 and over aged kids
Mondays Story based session for 12 and under aged kids English for Palestine sessions – Grade 5 Story based session for 12 and over aged kids
Tuesdays Story based session for 12 and under aged kids English for Palestine sessions – Grade 6 Story based session for 12 and over aged kids
Wednesdays Story based session for 12 and under aged kids English for Palestine sessions – Grade 7 Story based session for 12 and over aged kids
Thursdays Story based session for 12 and under aged kids English for Palestine sessions – Grade 8 Story based session for 12 and over aged kids

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There are a few drawbacks to using Facebook live instead of zoom. We can’t see the kids or hear them, and we have no virtual background (green screen) facility, screen sharing, or easy options to record and edit the video and publish it to youtube (though the recording does get published on our Facebook page of course).

However there are also some great things about working in this way.

  1. Since the sessions are open to everyone we can access a greater number of kids in each session, and there is even scope for kids from other parts of the world to participate too and interact in the comments with kids in Palestine. I like to think that kids are doing it with family members present too so they can help each other and learn from each other.
  2. The ability to post comments easily is great. It means that the volunteer can ask a question or set a task and can see lots of examples from different people. The volunteer can then then read out and (perhaps reformulate) what students say, even writing it down on a mini whiteboard for display. The only slight problem is that there is a bit of a delay between when the volunteer asks the question and when the comments are visible to him or her, so I’ve found that it’s best to have something else to do while you are waiting for responses.
  3. Lots of teachers are participating in the sessions too. Initially I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing, but I’m finding it’s really useful to have them there to provide supportive written feedback to the learners’ comments, as there isn’t time for the volunteer to do this while they are doing the session. There is also teacher development going on as activities are being demonstrated that could be adapted for the teachers’ own classrooms later.

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Stories and critical thinking

I was so looking forward to going to Gaza on Sunday to participate in the conference ‘Creativity and Critical Thinking in ELT’ organised by our advisory board member in Gaza, Rida Thabet.

There were going to be lots of talks and workshops about this theme by Palestinian teachers, supervisors and education specialists and I was going to be doing a short talk myself called ‘The power of story’

Unfortunately, like many other conferences  around the world, it’s been postponed until the corona virus emergency situation is over.

So instead, here’s a whole session that I did with a group of twenty girls and their teacher at Zaytoun Prep Girls school – Gaza a few weeks ago. In the session, I told two stories and both of them involved points where Saida, their teacher in Gaza, and I asked questions to the students in order to encourage them to think critically.

If you’re a learner of English and you watch the video, I’d suggest that you pause it whenever we ask questions and think about how you would answer the question. It might be a good idea to even say your answer out loud.