Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It Just Takes One

It just takes one to save the world. Well, more than one actually; but it takes one to get it started. Nasser Hamamreh is a school counselor at a poor boys school (Husne al Ashab) in a poor Palestinian town (Al-Ram) just outside the "security wall" built sometime after 2006 to remove it from Jerusalem and devastate its economy.

And he's one.

Khitam Edelbi, a Palestinian expressive art therapist and teacher, noticed Nasser's ambition to save poor Palestinian kids from destroying themselves a long time ago and was helping when she could. She introduced her pal, Al Miller, once a teacher in the Middle East, now theatre founder, director and professional clown in Brunswick, ME, to Nasser. Team Nasser taking shape.

Nasser knows personally what living under occupation can do to a kid. He was convinced theatre could grab these guys interest, give them a voice, increase their confidence, quicken their creativity, develop their talent. So with few or no resources he got started. I first met Nasser in the fall of 2013 when Al was training school counselors Nasser gathered to learn how to use theatre exercises with kids in their schools. It was enormous fun and the women took to it with abandon.

Nasser Hamamreh
Nasser with Al Miller
Getting started
Palestinian school counselors being trees ... or something
Al makes it all great fun
Training day in Al-Ram, fall 2013
Nasser telling his story

By sheer luck and various Palestinians kindly looking out for me, I found my way on Monday to Al-Ram and Husne al Shab school. Bus to Qalandia check point (Israelis let you leave Israel with no sweat; it's when you come back in that a hassle is probable), taxi from the West Bank side of Qalandia to the school. A very cool driver who spoke perfect English, gently corrected my miserable attempt at Arabic and, in discussion about "conditions" here pointed out that the Israeli Congress now only meets in Washington, DC.

When I got to the school and walked though the soccer "field" 10 high school students surrounded and escorted me to the correct entrance. "What's your name? Where are you from? My name is ......"

Nasser greeted me warmly and introduced me to Hussam abu Esheh, an actor, director, teacher, Palestinian TV personality (Hussam is a whole other story!). Al appeared shortly thereafter. So we got started. Since 2013 Nasser had scraped together financial support from various sources to create a surprisingly well outfitted theatre. Hussam had been working with the boys and this was to be another rehearsal. What a treat! The kids could not have been more eager, engaged, confident, creative. Hussam was a demanding director and the kids performed like pros.

Hussam abu Esheh

Getting directions

Looks like they just got hit with tear gas ... a not unusal occurrence
Time to ham it up
When Hussam's rehearsal was finished, Al did some more work with the kids, and they loved it all. I rode back on the bus to Jerusalem with Hussam and then, with Al and Khitam attended the Palestinian National Theatre where Hussam and others were performing a French play. A busy man.

Like I said, it just take one to save the world. Then, of course, the rest of us have to pay attention, to "get" it and to do "it". But we have to look for that "one" in out-of-the-way, unlikely places. Like Al-Ram. Like Nazareth. Like lots of other places.

Good reason to hope.

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