Ramallah: From within the silence... requesting freedom!
On the Disability International Day, in December 2011, a group of disabled people in Ramallah decided neither to demonstrate in the streets nor to write statements complaining about the violations of their rights. Here a report from their cultural event about freedom, self-expression, communication and inclusion:
Audience of 700 personally invited
The Ramallah Cultural Palace, a modern newly built theatre that is proudly located on top of a scenic hill and hosts prime cultural events, international festivals and high quality productions, was lit up and ready to host a special event on December 12, 2011.
The 700 excited audience included artists, students, ministry officials, mayors, NGOs and most important a wide representation of Disabled People Organizations. and their families. Each and every one was personally invited to attend the “Advocacy cultural event” planned for that day.
Large number of artists with different disabilities
Backstage, the performers included a large number of artists, young adults with mental, physical and sensory disabilities who were quite nervous before the performance but comforted by the large number of volunteers helping out. All knew their parts rehearsed many times.
In one quiet corner, a group of deaf performers were engaged in an active discussion with their trainer and facilitated by Asmahan, the sign language translator. At first glance, they seemed quiet but if you see beyond, the discussion was very interactive.
A new form of advocacy work
Traditionally, right holders have communicated to the public and decision makers a vast number of demands requesting equal access and equal opportunities. This was the introduction summarized by the Master of Ceremonies, Bashar, who has joined the CBR program since his childhood and is now, proudly sitting on his wheelchair and very happy to be leading this event.
An innovative group of persons with disabilities in Ramallah chose to express themselves with cultural means. They also wanted to take control of what they want to communicate and how they do it. They wished to use dance, music, singing, photography and drama as a means for their advocacy project:
“We want to express ourselves through a medium that everyone likes and understands, the most important is to get through to and influence those who take the decisions” one person said “and we want to do it in an inclusive approach, together with those non-disabled who believe in our cause and support us”.
Signing from within the silence
The stage was dark; totally dark a young dancer centered it. He was waiting for the light signal by the producer in order to start his dance. The music starting before the light signal did not communicate to him anything since he could not hear it. The same for the other members of the dance group. Young men and women, totally oblivious to the music and sound effects followed the light signals. Their faces lighting up as they signed away and interacted and danced proudly. They signed about freedom, self-expression, communication and inclusion and the audience felt at a loss, trying hard to understand what they meant.
Many of the women were experiencing their first performance on stage, in control and getting all the attention. At that moment, nothing seemed to matter except to get their messages heard. The audience were stunned and at the end ignorantly clapping to the performers who could not hear them.
"I had a great time and felt very strong today” said one dancer at the end of the show. "We felt we got through to people, all people… and we did it our way."