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Palestine & Israel

New exhibition of expressive art by Syrian and Palestinian refugee women

Home to an estimated 40,000 refugees, Shatila refugee camp occupies a small one square kilometre site just outside Beirut. It’s residents have been driven from their homes by conflict. Daily life there is extremely challenging, particularly for women.

Trócaire’s partner Basmeh & Zeitooneh provides much-needed services at Shatila, including running a community centre offering emergency relief and protection to women, men, boys and girls affected by the ongoing conflict in the region, including Syrians, Palestinians and vulnerable members of the Lebanese host community. 

Community centre social workers provide group-based and individual psychosocial support to women, girls, boys and men. 

One initiative, a creative ‘participatory action research’ (PAR) project, encouraged women to express themselves through art. The work they produced is being exhibited at the Space 27 gallery in Beirut this week.

Clinical Social Worker Nibal Al Alo describes how this project came about: “I had been working with a group of 16 women in the psychosocial support group, using storytelling techniques to support them to create a safe space and support each other. At the end of the group cycle participants expressed that they would like to continue this process of support and reflection by doing something creative together. They selected the theme ‘the experience of coping and adapting to life in Shatila’. It was important to them that this be a space for concentrating on their current life and experience, rather than focusing on what had happened in Syria.” 

With support from Nour Beydoun of Basmeh & Zeitooneh and Fiona Shanahan from Trócaire, Nibal developed the concept of a PAR project led by these women participants and using creative participatory methodologies. 

Irish Aid provided funding for this research, which began in March 2017. An external psychosocial specialist and artist, Rola Souheil, also joined the team and led on the research activities. 

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“This was the first time that I painted. I discovered that I am good at it, and through this experience, I realised that I can go further. When I paint, something changes, it feels like a getaway.” – Reem, 2017.

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“If there is one thing I would like to be mentioned about myself, it is that I sacrifice myself for my children. This was the first time that I painted. I am very happy that I created these paintings. Participating in the painting sessions was one of my first chances to receive education – I never learned how to write.” – Farida, 2017.

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“There are three versions of myself: the present one, the sick one, and the old one. I still don’t feel as strong, as healthy, and as well psychologically as I used to before the events. I would like to get tougher. But I am on a good way. Originally, I am from Golan. I come from a Bedouin family. This is the one part of my identity which nothing can erase.” – Fatima, 2017.

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“When you are sitting and painting, you forget yourself, you forget all your troubles, you don’t think about anything. You think about how your painting is going to turn out. You become one with the painting. If I am going to keep thinking about what happened, I will never be able to pick up a pen. But I am able to create something. If I put my mind on it, then I can create something new.” – Sahar, 2017.

The exhibition is running in Space 27, Furn El Chouback, Beirut on Tuesday 19th and Wednesday 20th December, 2017. 

Further information about this week’s exhbition.

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