And Suddenly Here I am

I fled from the mandatory military service in Syria in 2013 and I arrived to Lebanon with my parents. We spent the first year and a half living in a tent at Al-Marj Camp in Beqaa and then we were forced to leave the camp to Bar Elias town upon a military order to evacuate the camp.  

I started working with Action for Hope as a volunteer: the first time, they arrived to Al Marj camp in 2013 as a cultural relief convoy.  After that I worked with Action for Hope as a volunteer, then joined their theatre training program.

Our first performance was called “Our Tent” an interactive performance that dealt with issues related to youngsters living in the camp like boredom, love and friendship.     By the end of 2015 and after 5 months of continuous training we mounted our second performance called “Anjie W Yalangi” and it was performed in Beirut and in Ghazzeh and then came our third performance called “The Elephant Your Majesty ..”” that is invited to be presented in the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2017.

Before 2014, I had no idea about theatre. I was planning to be a civil engineer but gradually all my ideas started to change. I come from a social background where practicing theatre is a shame. When I started doing forum theatre and when I played different roles including the joker who discusses with the audience, all my perspectives changed. I was a very shy person, people used to say that “everyone can be an actor except Abdallah” and suddenly here I am, a lead actor defending ideas and thoughts and convincing people.

The culture I gained by practicing theatre paved the way for new job opportunities: I was offered a teaching position after the managers of the school saw a simulation I made.  After the interview, I was directly asked to prepare for a class session and due to the presentation skills I acquired by doing theatre I was directly accepted for the position. Many parents also asked me to teach their children, because they trust me. There are mothers, who often tell their children, look at Abdallah, he teaches and he does theatre.

While taking part in these theatre workshops, I became patient, more alert and able to find solutions and see things from different perspectives: This is the most the positive change I felt in me.

The negative changes around me were more related to the society’s criticism. When I first arrived to Lebanon, I was obliged to study “Islamic Sharia” in order to ensure myself a legal residency in Lebanon.  Everyone asked: “How come you are studying Islamic Sharia and doing theatre at the same time?”

People often have very limited thoughts of both religion and theatre. I told everyone that I was doing theatre because I believed that I was doing something positive for my community.

Author: Abdallah Birakdar, 23 years old from Damascus

Activity: theatre

Story collected and compiled by: Mona Merhi

Date and place: Sunday may 7th , 2017| Ghazzeh Cultural Center – Action for Hope