The imagination is a powerful thing. Through the alchemy of imagination, a broomstick turns into a sword, a crown of paper is transformed to glittering gold, and a tent in a Jordanian refugee camp becomes the Danish palace in Elsinore, or a windswept heath in pre-modern England. Shakespeare knew this, but even he acknowledges that sometimes the imagination requires a little encouragement to flourish:
“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.”
In Za’atari refugee camp, a Syrian actor is using theatre to help dozens of displaced children create a better “habitation” out of “airy nothing.” Nuwar Boulboul, former star of the Syrian soap opera Bab al-Hara, has adapted two Shakespeare plays for children, and is training more than 6 dozen children from the camp. The young actors rehearse in one of the camp’s tents, using props and decorations they make themselves.
Boulboul’s only request of his students is that they agree to attend one of the three schools set up by aid societies to serve the more than 25,000 children living in the camp. Before the uprising, Syria had one of the highest literacy and school enrollment rates in the region, but most of the children in Za’atari have now been out of school since the uprising began three years ago. Along with the acting training, Boulboul’s program builds children’s literacy and social skills, and provides them with a safe space to discuss and understand their feelings of loss, fear, isolation, and anger through the universal themes of Shakespeare’s works. Shakespeare in Za’atari provides a welcome creative and educational service to a population struggling to meet even basic needs.
This project is also an opportunity to draw the world’s attention to Syria’s refugee crisis. The children will perform their productions of Hamlet and King Lear for World Theatre Day on March 27th, 2014, and Boulboul is hoping that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders and celebrities will attend. The students of Shakespeare in Za’atari are lucky to have support of an educator like Nuwar Boulboul to ignite their imaginations and lift them out of their circumstances. The selfless dedication of Mr. Boulboul is an important reminder that all children, regardless of circumstance, deserve an education and a childhood.
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