My name is Aras, I’m 26-year-old and I’m from Iraq. I’ve been in Lebanon since 2007. I work as a cinematographer and theatre director. In 2009 I volunteered with AMEL Association as an animator with refugee children in 2009.
In 2012 I got to know AL-JANA through the “Janana Summer Encounter”, and I participated in many workshops, one of them being the filmmaking workshop, which was later screened at the AL-JANA’s short movies festival.
The Summer Encounter was a great opportunity for me to make many relationships, networking with other people and NGOs while sharing skills, information and experiences.
In 2015 I participated for the third time in the Janana Summer Encounter and joined the Building Puppets Workshop (The Magical World of the Inanimate) with the trainer Julia Yevnine. The workshop was so useful and I learned:
– How to make many kinds of puppets from paper and socks
– How to animate all types of puppets like hand puppets, sticks puppets…
– How to add soul to the inanimate through inspiration, voice, and seeing…
I was so excited to be in this workshop, it was incredibly mesmerizing and beneficial for me. I used the new skills I learnt in my work with refugee women. Each of them got to make their own puppet.
At the end of the project we organized a puppet show that was attended by many organizations and social institutions representatives.
The women were so excited to learn new skills and experiences to use them with their kids making their own toys.
Now I’m working with NGOs and organizing many workshops of puppet building and animation. For the future, I’m planning to make a street puppet show and organize free tours for the kids and provide the opportunity for them to watch the magical world of inanimate.
I still remember the first time I volunteered with AL-JANA, it was during the War of 2006. I was 16 and searching for a place to help people. I came to Al-Madina Theater in Hamra and asked if I could volunteer there. They were very welcoming. At that time, AL-JANA held different workshops there, all aiming to give children psycho-social support. Some of them had lost their relatives – you can imagine how hard it was!
I joined the theater workshop, helping children and youth to express themselves through acting.
After the war, I was invited to participate in the fourth AL-JANA International Film Festival for Children and Youth and to be part of the selecting committee. We, the youth, were given the power to choose the films that would be screened, of course after empowering us with different tools during different workshops.
I remember sitting around the table, watching different movies from different cultures, while being ourselves young people from different regions and cultural backgrounds. It was an enriching experience!
After watching each film on the screen, we would discuss it and each one of us understood it in his/her way, sometimes we even had small fights because the voting for a specific film was not enough for it to move to the next phase! Beautiful Cultural Fights! I remember myself in that period, I was very shy and had low confidence in some areas. This project was my window to the world, it was an opportunity to see how other youth in different countries feel, think and react towards issues they encounter in their societies. It was a window outside of my comfort zone being motivated to take the microphone, going out onto the stage and talking to 300 audience members about the movies. I can still feel the fear! But I did it and it became one of the turning points in my life.
My journey with AL-JANA didn’t stop there, for after a while I participated in different projects, helping children and youth to speak their opinions and feelings, listening to them and encouraging them to speak their minds. Giving back the window that AL-JANA once gave me…
Calligraphy was love at first sight,” Hani, who taught himself calligraphy from books at the age of 15, confessed. “It was first sparked from observing a commercial calligrapher in the camp.”
In the early 90s, he started teaching at AL-JANA, which subsequently provided Hani with a scholarship to master calligraphy first in Lebanon and then in Turkey.
There, Hani met Ghassan Chalabi, the last surviving master of the Ottoman calligraphy school. He later returned to Turkey and stayed there for 10 years, becoming a master in Traditional Turkish Art.
After, the master calligrapher was back at AL-JANA to teach children his art once a week during the Friday Art Club. “It is an innate art form and it needs to be encouraged more,” Hani believes. “It teaches children to be observant, to develop harmony, discipline, precision and patience.”
The overall goals of the workshops were to gain a general knowledge of the traditional art of calligraphy, Islamic geometric design, marketing techniques, bookbinding, and Kufic script so that the children can create art and geometric designs with it. They will also get to learn how to design creatively using calligraphy, geometric designs and Kufic script to write and to design.
From the first exploratory class he held, Hani could tell who had the passion…
To Hani, calligraphy is a higher form of expression and a symbol of Islam, given its devotional nature.
“Calligraphy to me is a way of life, it’s a passion,” Hani underlines. He sleeps with a pen and ink next to his bed, wakes up to write a letter – and goes back to sleep.”
Hani had published seven calligraphy manuals for schools before moving to Turkey. He returned in 2007 and has been teaching at institutes, schools and universities since then. He also sells his original work.