Feature: Art education helps Syrian refugees in Lebanon heal war wounds

By Xie Hao
  • World
  • Saturday, 24 Feb 2024

BEIRUT, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Inside a building in the Bekaa Valley, about 50 kilometers east of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, movie posters, oil paintings, and local musical instruments are placed everywhere.

"This is where we teach our students and it's a cozy home for all of us," said Nadia, a 30-year-old Palestinian who launched the Lighthouse Peace Initiative in 2018. Under the initiative, teachers provide free arts classes to refugees, such as filmmaking, drama, music, and painting.

With its abundant water resources and fertile land, the Bekaa Valley is known as the breadbasket of Lebanon. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fled to the valley.

Nadia has been volunteering in refugee camps in the valley since the beginning of the Syrian war. Here, she saw a large number of young people traumatized by the war were unable to receive formal education.

Out of her love for art, she decided to raise funds to provide art education for Syrian refugees. As of today, there are 14 teachers and 140 students at her place.

Among all the students, one attracted Nadia's special attention. In 2022, she arrived in the Bekaa Valley as a refugee from Syria whose mental health was seriously compromised after suffering severe injuries from domestic abuse.

Encouraged by Nadia and the teachers, she began to express her inner trauma through painting. She expressed the passage of time with distorted clocks and the harm that toxic intimate relationships can do to women with twisted vines. She is now divorced from her husband and starting a new life.

Ahmad, 47, a theater teacher here from a suburb of Damascus, has led his choir in several Middle Eastern countries years ago. In 2018, he decided to join Nadia's team to provide the young people with theater education and proper life guidance after he saw that many young people in the refuge camp were susceptible to extremist ideology after leaving school.

Ahmad believes that although it is hard for the voices of refugees to be heard in reality, when they present plays based on their real-life experiences in the theater, everyone pays close attention and can relate to their hardships and struggles.

"It was like a dream when students from different religious backgrounds dismissed their disagreements in real life and lived together peacefully in the group for the common goal of performing a good play," Ahmad said.

Mohamad Momneh, 26, hasn't returned home since the start of the Syrian civil war, despite his hometown is only a half-hour drive from the Bekaa Valley.

He first came here to study filmmaking in 2019 and has since then completed six short movies and a feature movie, for which he has won different international awards. Now, he is working here as a teacher.

Momneh treasures the opportunity to make movies. In his opinion, the majority of the refugee population is affected by chronic war trauma, and the movie offers a therapeutic means of using images to express the inner pain.

Compared to other art forms, movies have a greater capacity for communication and can raise awareness of the actual circumstances faced by refugees, he said.

"To make a good movie, you must put a part of your soul into it. If you can not convince yourself, you can not convince anyone," said Momneh.

Hassan, 29, gained knowledge of cinematography and acting skills in the filmmaking class. He has shown his acting talent by starring in several movies since 2018.

Apart from his acting, Hassan has maintained social media accounts on TikTok and YouTube to explore the new and interesting life in Lebanon. His comedic performances have attracted tens of thousands of followers, and his influence has increased his income.

For 24-year-old Hamza Al Zahab, this place is like a second home. He grew up loving music, poetry, and theater, but the war took away both his father and his home.

"It's art that makes me feel alive," Hamza Al Zahab said.

Hamza Al Zahab credits art for allowing him to express his trauma and come out of the shadows, as well as for allowing him to grow into a socially responsible adult. In order to assist more people in need in the camps, he works with a number of NGOs.

Looking ahead, Hamza Al Zahab plans to take a distance learning program offered by a university's business school and use business to change the current situation.

"We don't want to live like victims. We are change-makers," he said.

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