It’s that time of year when individuals and families come together, and when people are especially grateful for what they have. START, the local charity that aims to reach underprivileged children in the Middle East through art, is taking that seasonal spirit to Bethlehem this month, with a special arts festival for orphaned children.
A group of volunteers will travel from Dubai to Palestine for Art is Magic, a week-long festival of creative activities aimed at children aged eight to 15, taking place on December 23-30. The event will offer a host of interactive workshops, from landscape painting and magic tricks to yoga and flamenco dancing. And as a finale to the festival on December 30, the children will celebrate with an exhibition of the work they’ve done and performances showcasing their new skills.
START director Sonia Brewin explains that the festival will be like nothing else the children have experienced. ‘We’ve been asked to go [to Palestine] to deliver creative activities because children there have nothing in the way of art, music, sport or drama. So we’re taking people with various creative skills. We’re hoping it will be inspiring for the children and an eye-opening experience. It’s always fun to meet people who do something that’s completely outside of your sphere of understanding, and hopefully they’ll learn something from it.’
The importance of the dates isn’t lost on her, either. While the festival coincides with Christmas in a city as significant as Bethlehem, Brewin says they didn’t plan it that way. ‘We were asked earlier on this year [by charity SOS Children’s Villages] to go to Palestine. It was meant to fit in with when it’s suitable for the children and it’s actually amazing that it happened now. It’s Bethlehem and it is Christmas time, but it wasn’t chosen on our part for that.’
Sven Muller, a furniture designer and one of the volunteers who will travel to Palestine with the group, has worked with START previously in Lebanon. ‘I think it’s very important to support people who are in need, especially kids,’ he says. ‘Creative work is a brilliant way to express yourself and is a positive approach to life. To share your knowledge with kids who are in need is important, and START needs support from creative people so I knew I had to go.’
The trip means Muller won’t get to spend the holiday season with his family, but he doesn’t seem to mind. ‘It’s in Palestine during Christmas and it’s in Bethlehem, which is a very strong combination. To make such a project happen in Palestine must have been a huge challenge for the organisers and I think it’s great they managed to get everything working. And I have a great opportunity to support them now.’
Michael Cooper, head of art at Repton School in Dubai and another volunteer who will travel to Palestine, agrees. ‘I’ve always had an ethos that you can do above and beyond what is expected of you,’ he says. ‘The festival is a nice opportunity to volunteer and use my expertise. It makes it worthwhile. A lot of the time you go to these places and think you’re going to help out, but you also gain from the experience itself.’
While the volunteers are thrilled to do their bit for the kids, they’re just as excited about the potential of such an event. ‘I think this is probably going to be one of the pioneering trips,’ says Cooper. ‘It’s a case of setting not just expectations, but building connections and showing that people around the world care. It has the potential to be something that is put into place on an annual basis.’
Muller agrees. ‘This is an opportunity to celebrate culture and also an opportunity to cross cultures and show the kids how to develop skills. The goal in every workshop is more or less the same – to make these children smile, to give them hope, to give them relief. All of them love to escape their reality for a bit, and you can see and feel just how magical this is for them. The festival will offer the children a bit of escapism and a great opportunity for them to showcase what they can do.’
If you would like to help START through volunteering, donations or fundraising, call 04 323 3434 or visit www.startworld.org