05 May, 2018

'Inner thoughts' from Gaza to London

While planning for my first IATEFL last month, I came across an announcement for the Hands Up project conference in Westminster university in London on Saturday the 14th April, which is the next day after IATEFL which ran from the 8th to the 13th April. Luckily, I had planned to spend a few days in London after the conference so I decided to attend that conference as I have been following that project on FB for some time. I have always felt very proud of the amazing work NickBilbrough and all the volunteering teachers do with the students in Palestine and other places through drama and other English language activities online. Though some friends of mine were astonished how I would spend my first day in that vibrant city I am visiting for the first time in a conference when I have just finished one ! I will never regret it as it was actually a unique opportunity to listen to fantastic speakers, but above all meet some of the real heroines behind the Hands up project; five girls from Khan Yunus, Gaza,  Palestine, who were the winners of the play making competition “Inner thoughts” and thus were invited to come to London to perform their play live to a big audience in one of London’s theaters and to a big group of teachers from all over the world in that conference.
After meeting those promising, powerful and inspiring Palestinian girls, I decided to interview them to keep a record of all the positivity and power they were spreading through their smiles and words with everyone. I thought it would be better if I talk with them in Arabic to give them an opportunity to express themselves in their own native language, which turned out to be a good decision as it helped them share all their thoughts and feelings freely and comfortably. It was difficult at points to translate some of their words as they were full of enthusiasm and feelings that are hard to accurately express in another language, but I did my best and I hope you find this interview as inspiring as I find it.
N.B. I added some comments/thoughts (in blue) which came to my mind while listening to the interview and writing the script.

Q: Would you introduce yourselves and tell me your names, ages and where you are from ?
Salma Z, 14 yrs old / Rawan M, 15 yrs old / Batool A, 15 / ZahyaA, 15 / Dania, 15, and we’re all from Khan Yunus in Gaza.

Q: What is the hands up project? How would you describe it?
It's a program that reflects our lives. It teaches us new things such as pronunciation and new words. We could benefit from all useful aspects of this project.
It's an opportunity to express yourself and show your talent, no matter where you are.

Q: Did it really make a difference? Do you feel it had an effect on you?
Yes, of course. If it weren't for this project, we wouldn't have been here now, in London.

Q: Is being here in London the real change or effect of this project?
It's not the place, but being able to go out to another society and speak English confidently with native speakers and other people from all over the world. It boosted our self confidence. We can now stand on a stage and act in English comfortably and confidently.
The first piece of advice were given is not to look at the audience when we’re on stage, just look at a point in front of you. But we believe this is not the right thing to do, we should look at the audience to gain more self-confidence.You should look at them in the eye so that they can feel what you're saying.(This is how Palestinian do it, look at everyone in the eye with determination. If they do it with their enemy who's holding a gun faced at them, won't they do it with the audience who are coming to watch, respect and encourage them!).

Q: I heard one of you saying ‘we used to think we're getting old to act’ what do you mean?
Yeah, it's me! Because I used to act and sing at school when I was younger, then when I grew up (being a teen now) a bit and wore hijab, I stopped. But then one day I was approached by my teacher who asked me if I am interested in acting. I told her I used to when I was younger. She asked if I don't mind taking part in some activities and I agreed and since then I gained more confidence and am getting better every month. Now I don't want to stop, I want to continue and develop more and more.

Q: Did Hijab hinder you from doing what you want?
No, no, no (all girls in one voice). On the contrary, Hijab is organizing our limits. I can act in my hijab, gain people's respect and give a message.

Q: What's the best thing about your visit to London?
Living with a British family and talking with them in English. Everything is very beautiful. But yesterday was very very good. We met Palestinians who speak English, and they were very proud of us acting in English. Meeting Mr. Thomas who gave us some very useful tips on how to act on a stage was great.
He used to say it's ok if you're afraid on stage, but I challenged him and I said ‘No we're not afraid!’ And when we went on stage, I looked at him and said 'I challenge you!'. (That's the Palestinian spirit, nothing to fear from, a challenge is always a win for Palestinians and they'll win their challenge one day, I'm sure.)

Q: Would you tell us how your daily life is affected by the situation in Gaza?
Power cuts, we have only 4 hours of electricity every day. Sometimes they cut it for a whole day and the next day we have electricity for 5/6 hours, no more.

Q: How did you connect through the internet in such conditions?
We had to buy batteries. Sometimes while we're in the middle of a talk with Mr. Nick, the electricity cuts so it's very disappointing! Sometimes we sit together after school waiting for the electricity (and get home later than usual). We wait for the time electricity comes to be able to connect to the internet. But thank god, our efforts were not in vain.
Our teacher used to tell us "If you want to succeed, you have to work hard" and ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

Q:  These are all great messages to children everywhere. In your own voices now, what would you like to tell them?
Thank god you're living safely and peacefully and enrolled in a school, it's a great blessing. Most of your classes have less than 50 students, ours have a minimum of 50 + students.
Kids who are not 5 years old yet stand in front of shops with a bar of chocolate hoping to sell it to get a few coins. In spite of all this, we didn't lost hope. Instead, it made us even stronger because our goal is to prove to the world that Palestinians are not helpless and they can do the impossible.There's no impossible, we can do a lot. The more we suffer, the more we believe we can do anything. Our suffering convinced us that we can do anything and that nothing will stop us.
I stopped here to tell the girls, ‘In spite of all you're saying, your smiles are amazing and your eyes are glowing. You made me feel tiny in front of all you're saying as you have an unbelievable power coming out of suffering. I am really speechless.’

Q: You attended the last session which was for teachers. How did you feel as students? What attracted your attention?
I noticed the pronunciation symbols as we studied the symbols for ‘th’ in our course book, so when I saw the other symbols I knew that these are the rest of them and I remembered that I had seen them in the dictionary. 
We liked how we were treated as the rest of the audience (even if we're young students) though we're sitting among a large group of teachers from all around the world and for them we're just kids. We could understand in general what the session is about, we've even participated in the pair activity.

Q: Do you know that most of the presenters who came today are very big names in the ELT world and for us as teachers it's a big thing to be able to see them and listen to them face2face?
Yeah we know Mr. Adrian (Adrian Underhill) because he came to Palestine before and we love his sense of humor (Who doesn't? J). He sends amazing positivity while interacting with his audience (Yes girls, he does indeed, well spotted!)
What is special about some British people is their kindness and sense of humor. When they knew we're from Palestine, they smiled happily and welcomed us.

Q: What's your message to teachers?
Students are the future generation. The students you're teaching today will teach your kids tomorrow. Don't underestimate them. They will build your country tomorrow. If you don't teach them well, they might cause some of the buildings to fall off because they didn't receive good education from you. It's not their fault, it's yours! You will teach us and we'll apply what you teach us.
Students are a treasure. If you take care of it you'll grow it. You can grow it as much as you want. The more you give them, the more you get from them. Don't underestimate them because they're young. One day these young students will grow up.
I like the teacher who pays more attention to the weak students because this weak student might one day make a bigger jump than the strong ones. This is how you raise a generation.
Teachers should ask students at the end of the lesson if they understood the lesson and if they did, ask them to share what they’ve learnt. Encourage them to tell you if they don't understand anything. This will encourage shy students to raise their hands and say they don't understand. To encourage students more, you can even say 'That's a good question. I like students who ask questions, well done!'
The teacher should be smiling in class to his students and engage with them. Personally, I like the subject because of the teacher. That's why we like English.
Wow, I can see some very useful advice to teachers about building rapport, dealing with slow students, understanding learners, feedback, … coming from the students themselves!!

Q: What's the best thing you like about Miss Amel (their English language teacher)?
She's the mother. She is kind and is always keen to help us if we need anything. It's like we're sisters and she's our mum. We’re lucky to have her as our teacher.

Q: I am speechless. Any final words to the people who might read this interview ?
We have a lot of problems in Gaza, but we can do a lot. Just deliver our message. Many people know our situation but they ignore it. We need your support. We just need peace and our land back.

Please leave your comments below and I'm sure all students from Gaza, their teachers and the Hands up project volunteers will read and appreciate them :)


  1. Wow... speechless and crying! Thanks! Greetings from Argentina 😊😊

    1. Thank you Maria for your continuous support <3

  2. Absolutely love this interview and being a volunteer on the project, I see where they are coming from. What beautiful spirits! Strong and independent women! Thanks for the interview!

    1. Happy you loved it and could feel the amazing strong spirit in their words, Rebecca. Thank you for the amazing work you do in that project, you should be proud of it :)

  3. I wish all the best to those determinated students:) keep going ☺

    1. Thank you dear, am sure they'd love to read your kind words <3

  4. That is really an amazing interview. how confident they are!
    I wish I could attend and enjoy their performed play.

    All the best dear girls. Warm regards from Egypt.