Part 1 :
exchange Circus Zonder Handen & Palestinian Circus School
I was able to join a wonderful group of circus teachers from June 30th till July 14th 2017 In Birzeit (بيرزيت); a Palestinian town north of Ramallah in the West Bank.
This exchange brought circus teachers from both Molenbeek’s Circus Zonder Handen and Birzeit’s Palestinian Circus school together to learn more about each other’s lives, environment and to exchange circus and teaching techniques.
Even though both schools are separated by many miles, the two share quite a lot of similarities. Firstly, both schools are set in a vulnerable environment. In Molenbeek as well as in Birzeit, we see a lot of inequality, oppression, poverty, racism, social stigma and social-economical obstacles. Both circus schools also stand firmly behind the idea of ‘a circus for everybody’ and they see diversity as a strength.
This is the fifth time both schools have met, however this year is the first time they organised a summer circus camp together. For two weeks youngsters from five different places in Palestine (Ramallah, Birzeit, Al Jalazone Refugee Camp, Al Faraa Refugee Camp and Jenin) spent their time together to practising their craft, making new friends, learning new skills and having a great time.
My job was to capture this amazing experience, not only through photos but through film as well. Sometimes it’s easier to capture a certain atmosphere with movement, wich is why I chose to use both mediums.
We received a very warm welcome upon arrival. After a few days, even the tent -in the middle of the circus school- felt like home. Although I have little skill when it comes to circus and techniques, I still felt like a part of this wonderful circus family. Seeing all of the artists and youngsters at work made me very curious to try some stuff out myself. And yes – I, too, am now able to do a few tricks, including a backflip on the trampoline (with help), a few diabolo tricks and a little bit of juggling!
I’ve noticed that activities like circus can be extremely important for youngsters who have to grow up in difficult circumstances. Everyone needs space in order to express themselves, to grow and to feel free. When I look at my life in Belgium, my freedom of expression seems so inalienable. In Palestine however, liberal spaces are rare and invaluable. The Palestinian Circus School offers such a space, where you can truly be yourself, meet friends, experiment with new things, practise and learn what your body and mind are capable of. One teacher told me that some of the children in attendance have to pass check-points or Israeli soldiers on their way to school. Understandably, sometimes they are are scared, frustrated or angry when they arrive. It was inspiring to see them use circus as a means to turn these feelings into positive energy. This exchange has further reinforced my belief that organisations like the Palestinian Circus School are essential in giving people strength on social, creative and pyshical levels, so that they may better face the many challenges in their lives. During these two weeks I heard many youngsters say how circus has changed their lives, helped them open up to others, and led them to make surprising self-discoveries.
We finished camp on July 12th with an amazing parade through the old town center of the Birzeit Heritage Festival.
On July 13th, teachers from both schools presented a show on the same festival in Birzeit that we had attended the day before. After the show, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Nobody left without a hug and it was hard not to feel emotional. I’m so happy to have met all these wonderful, warm people. I saw so many students flourish doing what they all love so much, circus. It unites them, it strengthens them. It’s evident that organisations like the Palestinian Circus School are vital to Palestine and its people, who are living under constant threat. Stay tuned for Pt. 2 of my blog post, where I will be sharing more information about Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
From now on this place, this tent and especially these people will stay in my mind.