Youth Empowerment Program - Right to express
“For My Identity, I Sing!” is unique cultural and arts education initiative targeting youth in the occupied Palestinian territories. The program brings together young people without formal arts training and gives them the chance to use the arts, and especially music, as a tool to creatively explore their identity, personal challenges, problems, and other issues of importance in their lives and their communities.
Participating youth meet weekly with professional musicians who train them in basic principles of musical theory, technique and composition. There are also workshops on writing, movement, theater and other creative processes. During this period, the youth are asked to choose issues that impact their lives and begin to explore the chosen topics through the creative processes, incorporating elements of music therapy to help youth fully express themselves.
The musicians work with the youth to develop original music compositions based on these issues. These original songs are then recorded and presented to the community through online platforms and public performances. The youth are also trained in elements of advocacy and the songs themselves become an advocacy tool to talk about and increase popular awareness around youth problems and issues. The program works closely with community-based youth workers and gives them skills to support the program.
The first stage of the program was an 18-month long project that started in 2013 and worked with 200 East Jerusalem area youth between 14-17 years. The participants came from diverse backgrounds, helping to bridge the separation that has been imposed amongst Palestinians as a result of occupation, displacement and social division. The program creates a space where the participants can be united around the things that bring them together – their Palestinian identity, their love for the land and their people, and their dreams for a peaceful future without conflict, injustice and violence. The Welfare Association and UNICEF supported this first stage.
Although launched in Jerusalem, Al-Mada plans to make this a national youth campaign and to expand “For My Identity, I Sing” to other parts of Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and later to the broader region.
“For My Identity, I Sing!” is an Al-Mada community development project that uses music making to build the leadership skills of 150 Palestinian youth from East Jerusalem and empowers them to define and realize development and change in their community. This 18-month project is currently being implemented with the generous support of the Welfare Association
The specific objectives of the project are to:
(1) Build the capacity of Palestinian youth in music making by giving them the tools to promote their cultural identity and identify and cope with core societal and personal challenges;
(2) Build a community of empowered youth committed to art and music as a means of expressing their issues to the local and international community;
(3) Provide the youth with the opportunity to build an appreciation for team work and learn vital skills in planning and organizing events and activities;
(4) Raise the awareness of parents, staff of participating organizations and young professional musicians on the impact of music and artistic expression in building identity; and
(5) Open East Jerusalem youth to the job market, especially in the music industry
The project is pursuing these objectives through 8 months of intensive music education workshops with the youth, the collective composition of original songs by the youth that are being professionally produced on a CD, and public performances in Jerusalem and Ramallah that are entirely organized by the youth and that present the songs to the public. The innovative approach to community music making requires no previous experience with music composition or appreciation; rather it is a participatory approach where youth develop their musical skills through interactive activities and hands-on experience in a creative, improvisational context. The participating youth have worked directly with 5 professional trainers who oversee the music workshops and 10 young musicians who support the composition of songs and the production of the CD.
“For My Identity, I Sing!” was developed as a response to the needs of Palestinians generally, and East Jerusalemites in particular. Palestinian society suffers in numerous ways from Israeli occupation policies that physically and psychologically divide the population, contributing to the near total collapse of the social fabric of Palestinian identity, disintegration of family and personal relations, and minimizing positive social interactions.
Palestinian youth and children in East Jerusalem face a distinct set of social and cultural challenges, including community dislocation from the separation wall and restrictions on access to education and other basic social services. Sharp increases in drug use and a high incarceration rates have also had a deleterious effect on individuals and society. Palestinian Jerusalemites live in a unique and troubling environment: they are residents of East Jerusalem, but citizens of nowhere. Their national identity is muddled and challenged. They are without clear leadership, living in between two authorities, neither of whom addresses their needs.
This project addresses these challenges by giving youth a platform to recognize these social ills and to address positive change through creative artistic expression. The project works on the individual level and builds outward, addressing the individual need for a life of dignity, and the societal need for a cohesive and healthy community; thus enhancing the cultural identity of the youth and their families. Building on Al-Mada’s belief that holistic community development requires the participation of all community members, the youth in this project were pulled from diverse backgrounds and represent a cross-section of Palestinian East Jerusalem residents, balanced in gender, religious background, and socio-economic status. They come from the Old City, Shu’fat refugee camp and isolated areas around Jerusalem, such as Eizarrieh and Abu Dis. Partner organizations include the Frères School Jerusalem, and the Ministry of Education.
The project has also worked with 3 coordinators from these community organization and 30 parents to actively incorporate them into the project and to inform them of the profound impact of creative expression has in building identity and enabling individuals and communities to discover and reach their potential.
Over the months, project staff members have witnessed the youth blossom into passionate, visionary and highly creative community leaders. Al-Mada plans to expand “For My Identity, I Sing” to other communities and grow this into a national campaign. Join us as we build this exciting, innovative initiative!
The first stage was met with overwhelming support from the community, as made evident by the following quotes:
“I’m amazed of the discipline our students showed during the workshops and the concert, it’s extremely unusual, those particular students were always subject to punishment for their misbehavior, this is just confirms the power of music, and its influence on such ‘violent’ students.” - Principal of Husni Al-Ashhab Boys School
“Allow me to quote our students’ lyrics in my speeches and interventions with the policy makers at the Ministry, it’s very powerful, and we should not only hear them, but also attend to their concerns, this is very powerful.” - Ms. Ilham Muhaisen, Director, Student Activity Department, Ministry of Education
In 3 months Al-Mada can provide
· Weekly meetings (up to 12 total) for 20 youth in music-making and creative processes, as well as techniques/training on social media and advocacy
· Recording and distribution of 1-2 songs as advocacy tools for youth issues
· Publicity and additional advocacy work to bring attention to these issues
· Space for recordings and meetings
· 2-3 workshops for youth workers on importance of arts for youth empowerment