The UNRWA arranged a visit today to the all-girl session of Asma Elementary School in Gaza City. The school is smaller than the one I visited in Jabalia yesterday, but it has an equally impressive pupil count. And like Jabalia, the school has seen its share of conflict over the years.
A group of around twenty girls were pulled together for an art-based interview about their lives in Gaza and the things they wanted to share about the conflict. Many took the task very seriously, asking to grab their own art supplies from nearby bookbags once they understood that their drawings would be seen publicly.
The questions were identical to the ones asked of the boys. As an outsider, I wanted to understand the things that happen in Gaza and invited them to share their stories with me. The girls more than obliged and created extremely telling drawings, some based on personal experiences and others based on collective fears and anxiety.
Ambulances factor heavily in many of the boy's and girl's accounts.
Another extremely common element is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A large number of children included it in their drawings, especially when asked what they hoped for in the future. Having never left the borders of Gaza, the boys and girls have learned about the mosque from their parents. The symbolic weight of the place cannot be measured, and being denied access to it is a major source of contention within the Palestinian Territories.
Armed with nearly 80 drawings, I start the process of designing the photographs and sourcing materials tomorrow. With so much amazing raw material and frank accounts provided by the children, my biggest challenge will be choosing which drawings to focus on. The toys I'm able to find will likely dictate some. I'm curious to see what the local markets have to offer.
Thanks again to the UNRWA and its staff, the staff and administrators at the Asma Elementary School, Shareef Sarhan, Mazen Naim, and the resilient young women who participated today.