AL-JANA’s 25 YEARS JOURNEY
The Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (ARCPA) generally referred to as AL-JANA was born on the road in 1989 before moving into an empty flat on the fourth floor of a residential block near Beirut’s Arab University. For a while, it had no telephone…
Back then we used to take public transport to go to Hamra, which is a district 20-minute drive away, to send a fax from an office. The following day, our next-door neighbor (who had a phone) would knock at our door, informing us that the answer to our fax was waiting for us at that same office in Hamra! So we’d hop into another servis…
One room at our empty center rapidly started filling up with art books and supplies stacked on shelves, the other room became our silk-screen printing studio and our bathtub was our photography lab. Soon the center was abuzz with artists, children and youths, each working on some creative project.
JANA was established with a great volunteer effort by many friends who helped in developing its vision, getting it registered as a nonprofit Lebanese NGO, and over the years kept adding value, nurturing it’s growth and also supporting it financially.
The first activities took us around Lebanon to Arsal in the east, Akkar in the north, and Tyre in the south, as well as places in between, lugging a slide projector, books and art materials on public transport to our points of destination: marginalized communities, hungry for a sense of belonging and improved livelihoods, after so many years of war and neglect.
From the onset we felt the need to support craft arts income generating projects (arts projects would follow on later) in marginalized communities and to provide art history of Arab and Islamic arts, design and techniques.
AL-JANA helped in the establishment of two income-generating projects for people of special needs; one still operational focuses on paper arts. Furthermore, AL-JANA established a successful in-house income-generating project for its design students in silk-screen printing, at its center in Beirut.
In 1993, AL-JANA organized a symposium on the Palestinian costume history and symbolism of dresses and motifs from the different regions, given by the leading experts, followed by hands-on workshops on the different techniques of embroidery for income-generating embroidery projects in Lebanon.
The other early focus was on promoting Active Learning and creative expression in extracurricular programs for marginalized children. This became a major program at AL-JANA that made an impact all over Lebanon. This program has a training-of-trainer’s component and engages children in experiential learning, developing creative and communication skills. The program also published several award winning child-to-child resources.
Active Memory Program
AL-JANA believes that marginalized communities are enriched by their ability to overcome adversity and challenges with communal solidarity and resourcefulness, and that it is vital to engage the community, especially young people in documenting, studying and building on these strengths.
Starting in 1991 AL-JANA began its Active Memory Program with publishing a specialized journal focused on Palestinian People’s History & Oral Culture.
In 1994 AL-JANA field teams started a major campaign in all the Palestinian communities in Lebanon to document life histories as well as record recollections of social and cultural life in Palestine prior to 1948, the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of 1947-48.
Later campaigns focused on documenting oral and material culture.
1998 marked the 50th anniversary of the Nakba. To mark the event, AL-JANA undertook several initiatives:
– Document and publish it’s first active learning resource pack to engage children in discovering what took place in 1947-48.
Our field teams took the questions of fourth generation refugee children to first generation Palestinian Elders all over Lebanon and collected 140 hours of testimonies.
Later a team of educators and artists worked for two years to produce the multi media pack consisting of: printed storybook, testimonies, action cards, video and audio CDs. (Subsequently, other active learning resource packs focused on people’s history and culture were produced later).
“I wish I were a bird”:
Starting in 1998, AL-JANA engaged a group of 30 children from three Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut in a four-year project that set them on the path of becoming photojournalists, artists, filmmakers and putting together a book about their creative journey.
Their exhibition toured and engaged children around the world, their bilingual photo-voice book (Arabic/English) was translated and printed in Spanish, Italian and German and two of their videos received international awards.
Their project “We Exist” gave voice to the fourth generation of refugee children, advocating their rights, 50 years after the expulsion of their people from their homeland Palestine in 1948.
(Other child-to-child resources were later produced).
AL-JANA together with other NGOs organized a major cultural event: “Palestine Grows with Children” in 1998 that engaged hundreds of children, marking 50 years of Steadfastness and Creativity.
AL-JANA Active Memory Program made a shift of focus from documenting Life histories, recollections of social and cultural life in Palestine, the resistance and the Uprootment of 1947-48 to…
Empowering Experiences in Exile
Firstly, we focused on the resilience and ingenuity of women in the Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon during the years of living under Israeli occupation between 1982-84. Following stiff resistance to the besieging Israeli forces in June 1982, the Israelis systematically destroyed the camp and took men and youth to prison camps, leaving women, children and the elderly to fend for themselves in a destroyed camp, under the control of fascist allied militias. Late in 1984 when the released men and youth started to return to their families in the camp, they discovered that the women had not only rebuilt the camp but had also organized fierce resistance, as testified by the Israelis. Women played the same role in all the refugee camps under occupation in South Lebanon.
AL-JANA organized a committee of women who video documented the epic experiences of Women and then children of Ein El Hilweh in 2005. Later we commissioned a filmmaker who made the award winning film “Kingdom of Women” in 2010.
After the “Nakba of the Nahr El Bared camp” of 2007 (as the camp dwellers themselves call it), we started to organize digital stories workshops for women and youth to express their experiences of war, displacement and their role in rebuilding their community.
One short animation film, “The incredible Juice Maker”, received an international award. It symbolically expresses the hope, then anguish of camp residents when they were allowed by Lebanese security to visit their destroyed camp for a few hours to look for belongings amid the rubble underneath which were their former homes. All the filmmaker found was an intact Juice maker that survived the intense war.
Most residents lamented the loss of the most precious of all belongings, expressed over and over: photos of loved ones and old times in the once flourishing camp.
AL-JANA firmly believes that the challenges facing marginalized communities can only be dealt with through concerned parties making concerted efforts. Since its inception it has therefore been coordinating its efforts with other grass-roots organizations. In 2002 AL-JANA started to coordinate and formalize the JANANA Network of NGOs programs for marginalized children. It aims at promoting active learning, creative expression, child-friendly libraries, a healthy living and environment and respect for diversity.
Since then, AL-JANA together with JANANA partners, were able to organize yearly activities, campaigns and festivals for marginalized children all over Lebanon. The JANANA Spring Festival has become a much-anticipated yearly event that is open to everybody.
JANANA SUMMER ENCOUNTER
Since the first edition in 2002, the JANANA Summer Encounter has become a major regional forum for exchange and development of skills in the field of psychosocial support for marginalized children and children at risk. The training of trainers, week long, residential encounter, has been inviting experts and resource people from as far as Mexico, India and South Africa to engage with local and regional trainers and facilitators.
AL-JANA YOUTH MEDIA CENTER
Starting in 2006 the AL-JANA Youth Media Center has become a hive of youth creativity: the first Hip Hop artists in the camps recorded in our studio; scores of youth videos were filmed with the Center’s support and equipment. It is also youth from the Center that have been organizing the unique AL-JANA International Film Festival for Children and Youth: Children from the margins create their world.
AL-JANA Mobile Theatre & ARIJ Palestine festival
Inaugurated in 2012 by Dance Brigade’s powerful show Cavewomen: The Next Reincarnation, the JANA Mobile Theater is a 16×8 meters (extendable to reach 13×8 meters) mobile stage on which AL-JANA takes performances and screenings to marginalized communities.
This mobile stage has also enabled AL-JANA to establish Arij Palestine Nights for Music, a yearly series of concerts that are held in Palestinian camps across Lebanon. Local audiences get a chance to witness accomplished performers, free of charge, near their homes. Local and regional performers, on the other hand, get to perform to audiences they’d not reach nor meet and often experience the reality of Palestinian camps for the very first time. Arij Palestine Nights for Music has been held since 2012 and has seen Oumayma Khalil, Nidal Achkar, Ahmad Qabbour, Mohamad Khayri, Macadi Nahhas, Charbel Rouhana, Nisreen Hmaydan.
Community Collaborative Arts
The Return of the Soul (2008) was conceptualized and directed by Scottish artist Jane Freire in collaboration with AL-JANA and SHAMS in Lebanon.
Teams of Palestinian youth received art training after which they gathered recollections of first generation Palestinian elders, in refugee camps in Lebanon, about their tragic experiences of 1948. The youth later turned moving stories into more than 3000 wax figures suspended along a trail of tears. This epic of an exhibit opened in Beirut and later moved and made news at the Edinburgh Festival.
For years AL-JANA has been organizing art encounters between international and local artists to work with local communities on projects to memorialize epic experiences of community resilience and ingenuity.
AL-JANA collaborated with artists from ART FORCES (US) as well as regional and local artists on several community collaborative murals:
–Shatila 30 years on (2012): The group of muralists worked with the Shatila community and children on murals in a central square 30 years after the infamous massacre. The Shatila children from the Ahlam Laji organization (Dreams of Refugees), who learned while working on the murals, later worked on a one-year project to document local community initiatives that exemplify creativity and hope
–Houlah/ Borj Shamali (2013): This collaborative mural was dedicated to the victims and survivors of the 1982 phosphorous bombing of a civilian shelter by Israeli forces during the invasion of Lebanon.
Abu Fadi and his wife Mariam lost all their five children in the shelter of the Houlah Cultural Club that he built. Later, Abu Fadi rebuilt the cultural club and Mariam who survived the bombing with extensive burns, brought to life six new children.
- Nahr El Bared (2015)
- Culture in the Alleys in Beddawi Camp (2015-2016)
Together with local groups, AL-JANA organized several festivals in refugee camps in Lebanon mobilizing entire neighborhoods to share traditional dishes, young artists exhibiting on the alley walls, with musical troupes and song stirring the crowds.
Reaching out and Outreach enriching AL-JANA
We have had the richest exchange with the pioneering District Six Museum of Cape Town that has mobilized the power of memory to galvanize a grass-roots movement for the right of return for a displaced community in Cape Town, South Africa. We visited twice to share and learn and invited them to present their experience at two of our Encounters in Lebanon.
We furthermore shared our experience with grass-roots organizations in Oaxaca and Chiapas in Mexico and with the Children’s Movement in Cape Town, South Africa.
AL-JANA screened and exhibited the creative work of our children in Mumbai, India, which inspired Dalet street Children to do a similar photo-voice project, with our animator, that they sent back to our children, to be exhibited at our AL-JANA International Film Festival for Children in Lebanon.
A similar exhibit was organized in Taiz, Yemen. It inspired local school girls to enter the community of Akhdam/Untouchables situated next door in order to document the lives of their children through photo-journalism. A feature never undertaken before!
We were among the first Arab NGOs to visit the Sahrawi people in their refugee camps in Algeria, to share our work with refugee children there, and to facilitate a creative exchange between the Sahrawi and Palestinian refugee children.
AL-JANA’s Active Memory Archive (People’s History & Oral Culture)
Over 850 hours of recordings are being indexed and digitalized by our partners at the Issam Faris Institute for Policy and International Affairs and the American University of Beirut (AUB) Library that houses a copy of the AL-JANA Active Memory Archive within its Palestinian Oral History Archive that will be open and online both at AUB’s Jafet Library and AL-JANA Resource Center.
We Exist under its outreach activities and in cooperation with its above-mentioned partners AL-JANA organized an exhibition at AUB’s Jafet Library of “Young Creative Expressions from the Palestinian Camps in Lebanon” in September 2015.
The exhibit focused on three exhibits: I wish I were a bird (children from Beirut Camps in 1998); Away From Home Again (children from Nahr el Bared in 2007) and Shatila: Hope & Creativity in 2012.
After 25 years the small center in that noisy alley at the infamous Cola intersection has made its mark in the fields of: turning empowering community history and culture into learning resources and cultural manifestations; in providing marginalized children and youth with creative tools to express to the world their issues and to advocate for change; and organizing vital encounters and forums for the exchange of expertise, developing skills and enhancing networking and partnerships amongst grass-roots organizations. JANA has been taking on the challenge of breaking down the walls of ghettoization and building creative bridges of understanding between disadvantaged communities (more appropriately “Enriched Communities”), with neighbors, and the world at large.
Reflecting back on more than 25 years of AL-JANA, we express our gratitude for all the people who have enriched and inspired our odyssey and who have strengthened our conviction that people in community are the hope and solution. They are the tree of life.
Our journey would not have reached these new horizons had it not been for the vitality, ingenuity and volunteer spirit of the youth, who always refresh our souls with their ability to overcome adversity, to keep transcending and creating change. Youth are the river of life.
The AL-JANA logo hence depicts the river of life sustaining the tree of life.