x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE mum helps young Palestinians to focus on life outside refugee camps

Abu Dhabi resident takes what she learned at New York Film Academy and passes it along to needy teenagers in Palestine.

Hanan Debwania took 30 digital cameras to teenagers in refugee camps around Bethlehem last month, running summer camps for children and teenagers. Courtesy Hanan Debwania
Hanan Debwania took 30 digital cameras to teenagers in refugee camps around Bethlehem last month, running summer camps for children and teenagers. Courtesy Hanan Debwania

ABU DHABI // Mother-of-three Hanan Debwania splits her attention between her three young sons and her homeland of Palestine.

Each year she travels on charity missions to Ramallah, the city in which she grew up before moving to the US, and later the UAE.

Her project was inspired by a new-found talent for filmmaking and photography, developed since she graduated a year ago from the New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi.

Mrs Debwania took 30 digital cameras to teenagers in refugee camps around Bethlehem last month, running summer camps for children and teenagers.

The project aimed to inspire a sense of identity among the youths she said were shunned by both Israel and their own country, seen as second-class citizens in a town not their own.

"Because of technology and television, everybody wants to have a camera. They want to take pictures of things they see," she said.

The teenagers were given two options: create a film lasting between three and five minutes about local food, or focus on 1948 - the year of the Nakba when Israel forced out much of its Palestinian population.

"Most of them chose 1948," she said. "If they had someone in the family or friends who remembered 1948, they had to get them to talk about it. Most went to their grandparents."

She said the project gave the teenagers a sense of identity. "They know they don't belong in the camps," she said. "They know the old village names they are from, even though they're not on the map any more."

Mrs Debwania plans to go back this year to remake the films with professional equipment.

For the photography, the themes were friendship, refugee camps and home. "I'm going to choose 30 of these and display them in September," she said, with the money from their sales going straight back to the teenagers whose work is sold.

It is a positive exercise, she said. "There are no jobs for these kids and nothing for them to do, so this keeps them out of trouble. It gives them a way to see what's around them and reflect on their life."

Ammar Kurdi, a Palestinian businessman who was born in Nablus but has lived in Abu Dhabi since 1995, donated 10 of the cameras.

"I believe that everyone should have a dream, and our mission is to help get this dream to become a reality," he said. "This project helps the young guys who participated in the camp to test how to achieve the goal and develop a constructive hobby with photography."

The Mohammed bin Rashid Humanitarian Foundation donated Dh40,000 towards the four summer camps for children aged five and older. It was the organisation's second donation to one of Mrs Debwania's projects. Last year, it gave Dh60,000 for Eid gifts for 200 children at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.

 

mswan@thenational.ae