Over 50% of the population of Gaza is aged 18 or younger.1 They have had their formative experiences shaped by war or the threat of war, and a combination of associated hardships, deprivations and crises. Within this context, Gaza Children’s Cinema aims to boost the resilience of children and their communities. In this article, Ayman explores the role of cinema as a community-based education initiative that creates a safe space of entertainment to encourage peaceful dialogue and promote alternative narratives to conflict.
A difficult context
In May 2021, The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) confirmed that 12 of the 632 children killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza were participating in the agency’s programme aimed at helping children deal with trauma. In addition to war and the threat of war, children and young people in Gaza have experienced economic hardship, environmental crisis, institutional failure, social division, political polarisation and ideological rigidity. They have lived through an eight-year blockade that has restricted commerce, freedom of movement and ongoing intellectual and cultural exchange. As such they, and their communities, have been cut off from the outside world and exposed to both external violence and internal conflict.
In addition, the education system is constrained by overcrowded classrooms in which teachers employ rote learning and authoritarian teaching methods, exacerbating the children’s vulnerability to helplessness, hopelessness, and fear of “the other” that results from such isolation. It is therefore important to nurture children’s creative capacity and critical thinking through transformative learning experiences that help them to aspire, explore and achieve their full potential.
Cinema as peacebuilding education initiative
The Gaza Children Cinema (GCC) is a community-based education initiative. Since 2013 it has aimed to provide a peaceful and creative space. In this space, children can be children and the overwhelming realities of siege, loss and war can be temporarily forgotten as they are supported to resist fatalism or hopelessness. The overall strategy is to boost the resilience of children in local communities. GCC partners with a local team of educators from Tamer Institute for Community Education, to organise cinematic sessions that include 40-minute discussion activities on a variety of themes. For example, the sessions include programmes broadcast on Al-Jazeera’s children’s channel, excerpts from Charlie Chaplin movies, and prize-winning Japanese and European animation.
The cinema programme integrates entertainment, education, and social development. It is designed to engage children’s imagination, spark their curiosity, and enrich their sense of what is possible in the lives of individuals, families, and societies. The activities provide perspectives on global cultures and communities and promote dialogue among the children about their ambitions, worries, and dreams. They also explore the nature of their environment, the changes they would like to see, and the barriers that stand in the way of progress towards a better future. Ultimately, the GCC provides a rare forum for children to use their own voices – and to listen to and learn from each other. As they share their ideas and work together, they are supported to identify and address their individual and collective challenges. An educational experience grounded in open-minded inquiry offers an opportunity for children to open their minds, broaden their horizons and imagine a different world.
Mainstreaming cinema in youth culture
After almost a decade of implementing GCC in local community education centres, Tamer has adapted the programme to become one of the organisation’s integral education initiatives. The cinema sessions are part of all the spaces that Tamer Institute provide for children, and the organisation works closely with local partners to reach out to the most marginalised. There has been a two-fold impact: the programme has contributed to strengthening a love of the cinema experience with children and supported efforts to revive cinema culture in Gaza; and it has created a non-formal educational space, where dialogue becomes possible.
Working with partners such as the Emaar Association in the south of Gaza, Tamer Institute has been designing, building, and equipping permanent cinema spaces for children. With this partner, an experimental film screening was piloted with children and their parents, which aimed to use entertainment to create a safe educational space for dialogue on the issues impacting the lives of communities in Gaza. The session was positively received by the facilitators, parents, children, and local committees.
The success of the cinema project overall has generated interest, passion, and the involvement of local communities, whether from individuals, families and other organisations. Some of these organisations have started developing their own cinematic programmes in their local communities. As such, they are offering additional safe spaces for children to reflect and tell their stories.
For the children and young people who are growing up in contexts of violence, conflict, and ongoing oppression, the cinema project – as a non-formal quality education experience – provides opportunities for escape, for joy, and more importantly frameworks for reflection and dialogue. Together we can challenge narratives of hopelessness and provide a sense of hope towards future peace.