ROTA and Palfest host creative writing workshops in Gaza

Twenty-five students attended a pilot series of creative writing workshops at five ROTA schools in Gaza organized by Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) in collaboration with the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest).
  • Workshops encourage male & female students to write poetry, journalism, blogging and novels

 alt=Twenty-five students attended a pilot series of creative writing workshops at five ROTA schools in Gaza organized by Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) in collaboration with the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest).

From the 6th to 9th May, six Palfest authors hosted workshops covering a variety of writing techniques including poetry, journalism, blogging, novels and translation. Each writer was assigned his/her own particular workshop session held over three consecutive days for three boys and two girls’ schools.

Following a training session for 15 teachers on approaches to creative writing, a total of 25 students attended workshops with 10-12 students taking part in each session. The event concluded with students asked to submit a 500-word essay about a topic of their choice.

Creative writing topics for male students were Conventions of Creative Writing (Youssef Rakha), The Writers Laboratory (Khalid Najjar) and Getting Past Writing Fears (Tarek Hamdan). Workshops for female students included Inspiration Writing from Poetry (Nariman Yousef), Blogging and Personal Narratives (Manal Hassan) and Writing about the Personal (Sahar El Mougy).

“The most exciting outcome from the workshops was discovering the appetite for creative writing amongst male and female high school students in Gaza" said aPALFEST representative.

“However the students range of expression is limited to writing in Arabic fusha, they stay very close to political or nationalist themes, and place an over emphasis on the classical style of writing. There was little or no knowledge of personal writing techniques including blogging or how to engage in the online space“

All the students appeared hungry for more exposure to new materials, techniques, and contact from outside Gaza, they were surprised to learn that people can and do write in dialect (rather than fusha), and were keen to continue creative writing sessions in the future.

While organisers felt the students’ use of language was competent – and in some cases advanced – when they write about political issues or relate personal opinions and emotions, this was a totally new experience since much of the Palestinian curriculum is of a prescriptive nature.

Summing up the workshop outcomes, workshop leaders identified three main areas in need of development: to expand the range of reading materials available, establish connections with other emerging writers based in Gaza, and balance formal aspects of the curriculum with extracurricular activities to help students deal with the educational and political isolation.

“There are almost no modern literature books available to these students in Arabic or any other language. The curriculum is focused on traditional Arabic poetry and the classics; neither of which relate to the student’s personal experiences which are central to creative expression,” added Palfest author Tarek Hamdan.

“All the writers and facilitators agreed with the teachers and students that to achieve personal growth, long-term projects led from within - with the support of the Gazan writing community - will have positive effects for the students.” 

Fifteen teachers took part in the teacher training sessions led by Tarek Hamdan, with the majority of staff valuing the workshop which introduced them to new skills to help develop their approach to creative writing. Staff suggestions for future topics included focusing on journalism and how to imbed creative writing more into the curriculum. 

Clearly moved by the experience, workshop leaders expressed a range of raw emotions:- 

  • “One girl cried as she was writing because it was so personal… I had to read it out loud for her and when I did, another girl began crying as she related,” recalled Manal Hassan.
  • “I felt guilty, while teaching them, knowing that their futures are so uncertain,” Khalid Najjar said poignantly.

“This project is in-line with ROTA’s new strategic objectives which include focusing on promoting creative writing in the Arabic language and encouraging young people to read more” Lamis Sabra, International Programs Manager  

Looking ahead, ROTA school teachers have plans to organise frequent training sessions via Skype, host online school workshops with PalFest authors throughout the year, and arrange a “how to blog:” session with one of the Gazan bloggers.