NEWS Winter 2017

For Refugees Culture is by Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch
Resistance and Solidarity
Survival is a daily struggle for refugees. My mother sang to herself while she was cleaning the house,
I grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, so I preparing food, and when she gave me a bath once a week. I
know firsthand how hard life is in a camp in the winter. U.N. say once a week because there was never enough water to bathe
tents or cement rooms don’t prevent the cold from reaching refu- even twice a week. The songs she sang were about how much
gees. The cold sneaks through the doors and windows. Many she missed her land, her trees and the home where she was born:
times my family would wake up in the middle of the night be-
cause the rain had invaded our room, soaking us on the floor It has been a long time
where we all slept. My fig tree hasn’t died
My mother used to say, “In our own villages we loved the Soon I will get back to you
rain and felt good in the winter because we were farmers and we We will live together
needed the rain. Now we hate the rain and the cold because we We will survive together
are refugees, and far from our homes and land.” We will enjoy the rain
Palestinian refugees are no longer an exception. Millions of We will grow up together.
people in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen have become refugees
in the last few years as a result of the wars in the Middle East. Years later, when I visited my mother’s village for the first
I know what they are going through. Day by day, the desire time, I met some of her trees. My mother had passed away, but
to go back home grows inside every refugee. For us, the hope of the fig tree and her songs still lived.
going home is an individual and collective need. It’s as basic to I grew up listening to songs like this. At weddings, we lis-
our survival as warm blankets and food. tened as the generation of the Nakba (catastrophe) sang about
our land, our trees, the harvests, and love. My generation learned
Continued on page 2
Refugees’ Culture continued
strong communities and a better world. We hope that Shoruq,
these songs and stories before we learned how to read and write. which means “sunrise,” will help light the way. We’re counting
We memorized them deep in our spirits. on you to join us.
And we danced the debka, the national dance form of Pales-
tine, as a way to express our dream of returning to our villages.
The first time I danced the debka as a child, I felt like I was flying
back to my village. In the dance, we were sharing our dream of
returning to our homes and bringing our villages into the room During the most difficult times,
with us. As we danced together, all the barriers between the gen-
erations disappeared, and we were together making beauty from
our songs, our dances and our
the pain of exile and the love of our homeland. stories keep our dreams and
Now a group of youth in my refugee camp is carrying on the
tradition. Shoruq is a MECA partner, and we are very pleased resistance alive and our
to announce that the Shoruq Dance Group will be touring the culture growing.
U.S. in March 2017 to share their songs, dances, and stories.
We from the camps are very proud that this show is a collective
effort. The dancers and choreographers were all born and raised
in Dheisheh. The song lyrics were written by people in the camp
and reflect their desire to return home and to document their lives
under Israeli occupation. The music was recorded in Shoruq’s
studio—the first time a Palestinian refugee camp has had a pro-
fessional music studio. The tatriz (Palestinian embroidery) on
the costumes was sewn by Palestinian refugee women using tra-
ditional patterns. Together they have produced a show to bring
you the creativity, the commitment, and the heart of generations
of struggle in Palestine.
There is a cold wind blowing in the U.S. right now. The chill
seeps into the rooms and through the doors and windows of our
movements, our communities, and our dreams. In the coming
winter darkness, it will be easy to lose our way, to lose our col-
lective voice for justice. We at MECA hope that through their
dancing, the children of Dheisheh will inspire those living in the
U.S. to survive and fight for their rights. We hope Shoruq’s sto- One of the tiny cement rooms in Dheisheh refugee camp that
ries, dance, and music of resistance will inspire people in the the UN built for whole families like mine in the early years of
U.S. to unleash their own creativity, to struggle together to build the camp. Credit: Pablo Pitcher-DeProto

Shoruq Debka & Hip Hop
TOUR DATES
• San Diego, CA: • Oakland, CA • New Haven, CT:
Saturday, March 11, 7pm Sunday, March 19, 4pm Thursday, March 30, 7:30 PM
Poway Performing Arts Center Oakland Technical Engleman Hall, C112 at Southern
High School Auditorium Connecticut State University
• Los Angeles, CA:
Sunday, March 12, 4pm • Atlanta, GA: • Hartford, CT:
Downey Civic Theatre Date & Location TBA Friday, March 31, 7 PM
The Artists Collective
• Sacramento, CA: • Youngstown, OH:
Friday, March 17, 7pm Saturday, March 25, 7pm • Paterson, NJ:
Benvenuti Performing St Anne Church Saturday, April 1
Arts Center Dr. Hani Awadallah School

2 MECA NEWS
Your MECA
Gaza Update: Dollar$
Medicine, Winter Aid, Psychological at Work
Support, New Staff, Music, and More
Gaza Update:
Palestinian children and families in Gaza are living every
day with the aftermath of the 2014 seven-week Israeli assault Music Comes to Gaza Schools
on the entire population, which killed more than 500 children,
injured thousands and left virtually every child in Gaza suffering School days in Gaza can be very hard. Many children have
from psychological distress. The attack and its lasting impact difficulty concentrating and learning because of chronic psycho-
comes on top of a devastating blockade–now in its tenth year– logical distress. Classes are overcrowded. Buildings are dam-
previous attacks, and decades of occupation and dispossession. aged by Israeli shells, and the blockade prevents materials for
MECA continues to meet children’s basic needs and provides repair from entering Gaza. A shortage of school buildings has
help through our psychosocial support program, “Let the Chil- made most schools run two or three shifts, shortening the school
dren Play & Heal.” day. There is no time, money, or space for anything but the bare
basic instruction. MECA is supporting a music program in Gaza
schools for 100 children. At the end of the year, the children’s
“Peace Choir” performed for the whole community. A friend in
Gaza who attended wrote:
Stunning performance by the Peace Choir of 100 chil-
dren from the Gaza Strip. They sang a song from their Pal-
estinian heritage about a grandmother’s thobe (traditional
embroidered dress); about how each stitch represents a
Palestinian story from pre-1948 Palestine.

“We sing and love life despite
the Israeli oppression!”

Credit: MECA

New MECA Gaza Project Assistant Wafaa El Derawi (see page 4)
and Red Crescent staff inventory a large medical aid shipment
before it’s distributed to the clinics that requested the specific
items.

Medical Aid Shipment
After months of delays, a MECA medical shipment finally
reached Gaza in December. Antibiotics, vitamins for children and
pregnant women, pain medications, surgical supplies, hospital
Music classes provide joy, expression, and a respite from the
mattresses, and wheelchairs were delivered to the Red Crescent
harshness of life in Gaza. Credit: MECA
Society of the Gaza Strip, which runs three clinics in Gaza, and
Ard Al-Insan Child Nutrition Center. The shipment was packed
and ready to go to Gaza in August but due to the Israeli blockade,
it took months to get clearance for the shipment. MECA is grate-
ful to the World Health Organization for their help in getting the
shipment cleared for entry. In addition, MECA Gaza staff and a
team of volunteers delivered warm children’s clothing made at
a local factory. MECA NEWS 3
Welcome Amal and Wafaa,
Gaza Update continued:
New Gaza Staff
Nutrition and Health Workshops MECA is very pleased to welcome two remarkable young
women to our Palestinian staff in Gaza. Last year MECA’s pre-
MECA’s new Project Assistant in Gaza Wafaa El De- vious Gaza Project Assistant Safaa El Derawi received a pres-
rawi has initiated a project to address a nutrition crisis that many tigious scholarship from an Australian university. Overcoming
families face. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, which blocks the multiple obstacles to leaving Gaza, Safaa is now working toward
entry of many basic foods, along with widespread poverty, make a master’s degree in water engineering.
it difficult for people to get adequate nutrition. As a result many
children and adults suffer from anemia, vitamin deficiencies, di- Wafaa El Derawi, Gaza Project
abetes and other disorders. Wafaa and a nurse conduct nutrition Assistant, has a bachelor’s
trainings, in which 60 women cook and share a meal together degree in pharmacy and
a master’s degree in clini-
as they learn how they can make healthy meals for themselves
cal nutrition. She began her
and their families with foods that are available and affordable in
work with MECA as a trainer
Gaza. They also learn about symptoms, testing and treatment in our nutrition project with
for malnutrition-related diseases and how to prevent food and women in Gaza. Wafaa has
water-borne illnesses. The women leave with a wealth of health also volunteered with the
information, glucose-testing devices, and hygiene kits. Union of Health Work Com-
mittees as a health educator
In addition to these projects, MECA’s Maia Project to raise awareness about the
importance of healthy nutri-
continues to provide clean water in Gaza schools, “Let the
tion and highlight the dangers
Children Play & Heal” provides psychological support, of malnutrition, especially for
recreation, and arts programs for children, and we are sup- children.
porting a women’s sewing business, and a new preschool/
kindergarten.

Amal Abu Moailqe, Maia Project Co-
ordinator, is a mechatronics engineer
living in Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza.
In addition to her work with MECA she
is co-founder of Sketch Engineering,
a start-up company, which works on
solutions to Gaza’s electric power crisis,
Amal is “very interested in improving
At MECA nutrition trainings, 60 women cook and share a meal together as they
children’s lives.”
learn how they can make healthy meals for themselves and their families with
foods that are available and affordable in Gaza.

4 MECA NEWS
New Palestinian Children’s Books Your MECA The Madaa Team for
Dollar$
Encourage Reading, Win Awards Children who’ve been Arrested
at Work
“The majority targeted for arrests are children between
the ages of 7 and 17,” explains Sahar Baidon, Deputy Direc-
tor of the Madaa Creative Center, MECA’s partner in the
Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, East Jerusalem. The
arrest of children is a key component of Israel’s ongoing
project to push out Palestinians.
Sahar describes what happens to hundreds of children
in Silwan every year: “Children are arrested at home dur-
ing the night, no family member can even talk to the child.
According to Israeli law, children should not be handcuffed,
blindfolded or interrogated without representation, but Pal-
estinian children are. They are subjected to physical, psy-
chological and verbal abuse and humiliation. One young
Credit: MECA child who, when he asked to use the bathroom, was told by
his Israeli interrogators ‘you can just pee in your pants.’”
A young reader enjoying one of five new childrens’s Many children who have been arrested subsequently ex-
books published by the Palestine Writers Workshop with perience bedwetting, nightmares, anxiety, sleep disorders,
support from MECA. Al-Jinia Al-Gharbia (Fairy Gypsy) is weight loss and behavior problems like withdrawing or be-
a story about stereotypes, trusting your own experienc-
ing aggressive. Their academic performance suffers, and
es, and not judging people by what you have been told.
many children drop out of school.
The Palestine Writing Workshop (PWW) was founded MECA supports Madaa Creative Center’s team to meet
just five years ago but has quickly grown to become a sig- immediate and ongoing needs of children who’ve been ar-
nificant resource for writers, readers, illustrators, teachers, rested, their families, and the other children in Silwan who
parents and children across Palestine. MECA has supported live with the constant, threatening presence of Israeli au-
PWW’s work to bring books, storytellers, discussions and thorities, along with violent settlers and their private secu-
book clubs into local schools. Last year, we supported the rity forces.
publication of five beautiful new children’s books by con-
temporary Palestinian writers. PWW director Maya Abu Al-
hayyat explains, “we have been working to promote reading
across Palestine using creative writing and storytelling. We
felt the need [for new books] due to a shortage of children’s
stories in Palestinian neighborhoods.”

I did not imagine that reading stories aloud
is something very important for me and my
kids, from this moment I will devote time
every day to read to my children.
—Nermin, a mother who attended a training in Gaza with
Palestine Writing Workshop Director Maya Abu Alhayyat

Two of the PWW books won the prestigious Etisalat
Awards for Arabic Children’s Literature. Berkat Al Asela Al
Zarqa’a (The Pool of Blue Questions), written by Maya Abu
Alhayyat, illustrated by Hassan Monasira won the award in
the Best Production category and Bolqosh, written and illus-
trated by Yara Bamieh won for Best Illustration.
Along with the publication of the books the Palestine MECA’s partner the Madaa Creative Center has created a
team to meet the needs of the hundreds of children who are
Writing Workshop leads workshops for mothers in reading
arrested each year in the besieged Silwan neighborhood of
aloud to children. The new books are given to participants East Jerusalem. Credit: Majd Ghaith, silwanic.net
who make a commitment to read to children in their own
Continued on page 7
Continued on page 7 MECA NEWS 5
Your MECA
Dollar$ Maisa’s Story
by Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch
at Work
Update from Lebanon: MECA Staff

Education and Aid for Refugees from Syria Maisa, who is 14 years old, came to Lebanon
three years ago with seven family members af-
“Education for All” at Al-Jalil Center in Lebanon ter her house was bombed and destroyed in the

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are determined to ensure that Syrian war. Her father is now stuck in Syria. She
their children get an education, but too many Syrian children are hasn’t seen him for three years.
still out of school because their parents can’t afford fees and oth- Like thousands of Syrian refugees, she can’t
er expenses, or because they don’t have the proper documents. attend school in Lebanon. She attends classes
In response to these and other obstacles to education for chil- for refugees at MECA’s partner organization Al-
dren who fled the war in Syria, MECA’s partner in Lebanon the Jalil Cultural Center.
Al-Jalil Center has established classes for both children who are Maisa tells me, “When I see local students going
to school every day, I feel jealous and get angry. I ask
enrolled in local schools and those who are not. They are study-
myself, why I am not allowed to be like them, why I am
ing Math, English, and Arabic reading and writing. The children
different? No one from my family can go to school. It is
also participate in sports, field trips, art, storytelling and drama
very expensive and some of us are not allowed because
classes, visits to a mobile library, and workshops in human rights.
we don’t have documents. I go the Al-Jalil Cultural Cen-
ter every day for three hours. I learn math, English and
Arabic [reading and writing]. During the weekend I learn
how to use the computer. It is not enough, but still, it’s
the only place for me to learn something.”
The seven members of Maisa’s family are liv-
ing in a tiny room. They survive through UN and
Al-Jalil relief projects. Maisa thinks of herself as
lucky compared to other children she’s met who
don’t have a roof over their heads, and live in
tents, and shower only once a week.
When I asked Maisa what she wanted to be in
the future, she told me she’s afraid of the future,
and that she only wants to go home to Syria and
play with her friends as she did in the past. Maisa
has been forced to grow up too fast. She’s miss-
Most refugee children from Syria are unable to attend ing the basic necessities of life that we take for
school in Lebanon so MECA helped one of our partners granted. Her childhood has been assassinated.
establish a school to meet their needs. MECA and the Al-Jalil Cultural Center are trying
to give her hope by making it possible for her to
learn new things and help her imagine a future.

Winter Aid
It gets very cold in Lebanon with icy wind and rain, and
sometimes snow. You can imagine, how difficult—even
dangerous—this is for refugees living in tents and flimsy
shelters—especially infants and small children. MECA’s
partners distributed vouchers for food and hygiene
products.

6 MECA NEWS
New Palestinian Children’s Books Continued The Madaa Team for Children Continued
families and communities. Nermin, a mother who attended The Madaa Team is made up of a lawyer, a psychologist,
a training in Gaza, says, “I did not imagine that reading sto- a librarian/Activities Coordinator, as well as a researcher
ries aloud is something very important for me and my kids, and videographer to document the arrests for evidence and
from this moment I will devote time of day to read to my advocacy efforts. As soon as a child is taken by Israeli au-
children.” thorities, the lawyer begins work to locate the child, keep the
The SacramentoBethlehem Sister City and the Boulder parents informed, and protect his (it’s almost always a boy)
Nablus Sister City contributed to the publication of the new rights throughout the entire legal process. The lawyer aims
children’s books, and together with MECA we are explor- to prevent prolonged detention, forced confessions, impris-
ing the possibility of publishing bilingual Arabic-English onment, and psychological or physical abuse. At the same
editions. time, Madaa’s staff psychologist visits the family in their
home to assess their needs. After the child is released, the
Activities Coordinator immediately tries to engage him in
community activities with peers, and makes sure he returns
to school. The psychologist provides counseling for the child
and his family. A tutor may be provided for children who are
released to house arrest, have missed a significant number of
school days, or are doing poorly because of psychological
distress.

“We are talking about children! For me, it is
really torture and not related to any laws.”
—Sahar Baidon, Deputy Director of the Madaa Creative Center

Two of the new Palestine Writers Workshop books won the prestigious Etisalat Awards for Arabic
Children’s Literature. Berkat Al Asela Al Zarqa’a (The Pool of Blue Questions) written by Maya Abu
Alhayat, illustrated by Hassan Manasrah, encourages children to ask questions. The answers that the
main character finds out himself become his prized possessions. Bolqosh written and illustrated by
Yara Bamieh is about an imaginary friend who shows you the beauty in every day. Credit: PWW

MECA NEWS 7
NEWS
Winter 2017

UPCOMING EVENTS!
Please join us for the US premiere of
the film:

Jerusalem, We Are Here
Thursday, February 23, 2017
7pm
Berkeley City College Auditorium
2050 Center Street, Berkeley
Tickets available at
www.mecaforpeace.org

If houses and streets, neighborhoods
and cities could tell us their stories, what Shoruq Children’s Debka &
would these be? The present dominates
our sense of space, but the past is always Girls Hip-Hop Tour
enduring under the surface, even when it Oakland Performance, March 19th
has been socially, politically and econom- See page 1
ically concealed.
Tickets & details at
Filmmaker and film participants
in person!