Capacity Building Workshop
On Learning and the Neighborhood (Jeera)
April 2012
Francais غربٍ

In This issue

On Learning and the Neighborhood (Jeera): The old neighbor and the fig
May we all continue to write our history in our unique voices
Istikshaf Program: Promoting Mobility
Application deadline extended: Travel grants available for active Arab youth to visit the youth initiatives of King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement
"Our Stories" celebrates freedom and creates a substitute of mainstream media

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About AEF

The Arab Education Forum is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization active in the Arab World in the field of community and youth work . The mission of AEF is to contribute to an Arab cultural regeneration project that springs out of the inherent knowledge and experiences within the Arab societies

Safar Grant

Grant applications for the Safar/Istikshaf program are accepted throughout the month. The grant selection committee looks at the submitted applications in the first week of every month, provided that the application is submitted at least one month before the date of travel. For more information

Tales of an Arab Spring: Who Writes People's History(ies)?

An amazing encounter, in which experiences not only come into contact, but interweave, interact and converge in dialogue which sparks the imagination... The experiences of young men and women are inspiring; something new is happening at the moment all over the Arab world – in theatre, cinema, photography, dance, singing, in storytelling, in drawing and composition, and other art forms. Inspirational experiences not only for young people but for all generations... narrative pours forth in its different forms and manifestations and in diverse verbal and visual languages...A clean imagination which works, has not been corrupted, lights up the spirit – perhaps the neighborhoods should be here, in these places and with this spirit, with these young people. Maybe we should pick some of them and use them to penetrate the education system: for education without art, without expression, without imagination makes no sense ... This is possible now in the light of what we see today...Wasim Al-Kurdi, Palestine.


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On Learning and the Neighborhood (Jeera): The old neighbor and the fig

The wrinkles on his face shifted, forming into an expression somewhere between cynicism and pity, and he touched his gold tooth, letting us know that he was about to say something, and in as confident a voice as possible he said:

"Learning from experience is closer to heart".

Of course it was not difficult for my mother in her simplicity to notice that our neighbor my uncle the Hajj would not have abandoned his village dialect to speak in classical Arabic unless he was saying something important and true, as was his custom. I don't know what my mother understood exactly; but she left me to eat a fig she had picked for me from the lower branches of the tree. The shade of the other branches had stopped it getting ripe like its sister-fig in my brother's hand, who was braver at tree climbing than me and so the fig in his hands had been closer to the sun.

The next morning I heard my uncle talking about water with my mother, and when I passed by the little shed in the garden I noticed that he was pointing at the well from the bench they were sitting on. I think he was comparing the rain water with the city council tap water, and mentioning something about springs and water sources. My mother interrupted him, calling out to me eagerly:

"We were just talking about you! Come and eat"!

I was afraid that my mouth would go into a spasm at the sour fig in her hand like it had yesterday, so I hesitated a little, but I was surprised by its sweetness as it melted in my mouth, my pupils dilating in an ecstatic trance at the taste. Ever since that moment I associate the taste of delicious ripe figs with the smile of satisfaction that spread across my elderly uncle's face at the realization that I could only now distinguish between one fig and another, and that I had been wrong yesterday, disobeying my mother and swallowing that 'raw' unripe fig.

I sat down, bringing this story to the surface of my memory, and I couldn't help trying to recall what my uncle was saying about the water. The contradiction between what I had heard them saying about water and what my mother had claimed about me being the subject of their conversation was interesting to me, somehow.

On the other side of the river, and more than twenty years later, my friend and colleague Mais Irqsusi called to invite me to a meeting, knowing that the theme of it would interest me a lot...Mmmm...Let's see! It's certainly something I have talked to her about...I am always annoying her and the rest of the Arab Education Forum team, launching into endless talk about all sorts of things...

That was at the end of last year, which I think was the strangest year in the whole of modern Arab history. The meeting was the first one of the founding committee of the 'Amman Learning and Convivial City' initiative.

The Forum's team may well have succeeded in offering their usual welcome, and the hospitable atmosphere of the Forum also succeeded in making it easier for me to engage in the meeting; but I was constantly drawn to the sofa cushions in the meeting room, and the wise voice of the embroidery on them which seemed to be saying to me: 'You could seek wisdom from sleep!' And for some reason I remembered the story I have just told, and I recalled the taste of figs.

We debated, in the" Amman Learning and Convivial City" initiative preparatory group or the founding committee - or rather, the amazing group of people of all ages that defies one to give it a title as a group. We discussed the importance of learning and the moral value of generosity, and the relationship between these two things and the abandoned spaces in Amman; the unexploited expertise of artists, teachers, and professionals; the opportunity for learning, the importance of there being a map of learning opportunities in Amman and it being available to all. We discussed everything that increases learning and contributes to the people from the city center feeling more connected to their surroundings, and to the people of Amman taking better care of their surroundings, with a complexity that does not diminish their appreciation of our partners from Amman City Council, for whose sake we were meeting. For the sake of the city's people we launched our initiative which finally has a name after a number of meetings and attempts and twice-monthly debates. Its name now is " Jeera : Amman Learning and Convivial City."

And every time someone asks me about the initiative and what we do, my mind returns to the story of my elderly uncle and the raw fig. Perhaps he was scolding my mother for teaching me, and wanted me to learn by myself...water from the well as a symbol of human heritage - which we collect, accumulate and find when we need it. And maybe he also meant the divine wisdom and the religions about rain water which falls as mercy and salvation? Yes, and I think that spring water is a learning experience, and a wisdom gained from observation and experience and life...but what did he mean about city council tap water?!

Nour Shbeita

May we all continue to write our history in our unique voices

Over the course of four days in the city of Alexandria more than seventy participants from different countries – both within the Arab world and outside it – met to participate in the second regional meeting of the Hakaya Program, Tales of an Arab Spring: Who Writes People's History(ies)? which was held from April 23 to 26. The meeting focused on several themes related to the inspiring stories of the Arab spring. On the first day Munir Fasheh from Palestine wove his own personal stories with those of general daily life, concentrating on the failure of the education systems in the Arab states. He emphasized the importance of knowledge and wisdom, moving around among the participants telling lots of stories. With the participation of a troupe from Jenin Theatre, a group of young actors rehearsed and performed a series of stories they had heard from Playback Theatre. From Egypt, El warsheh troupe performed individually narrated pieces, to which the storyteller Arfa Abdelrasoul contributed the story along with Dalia al-Jundi and Shadi Atef. A video of a performance of tales from Tahrir was also shown.

Many of the contributions and papers which were presented by a number of artists and experts recounted and passed on ideas and experiences, inspiring the meeting and influencing the discussions - which did not finish when the specified time for each session was up. In a session on expressing the revolution, 'The role of the artist in the movement: art or documentation?' the Syrian artist Saad Hajo contributed an intervention called 'Irony as a confrontation with tyranny' and showed a set of his cartoon drawings. The Tunisian artist Nawal Iskandarani participated via Skype, and from Egypt the young director Tamer Issa showed how it is up to film to capture the events of the revolution in detail. In terms of the role of community-based initiatives, there was a presentation about a number of initiatives and the nature of their role in the revolutionary movement. Mohannad Karajeh from Palestine presented on his experiences of street theatre, and Salam Yusri from Egypt presented Mashroo Coral and street children initiative with Rabab Hakim. Ziad Hawass presented the"Mosireen" initiative.

In the session on documentation / oral history and the documentation of our work, Mofidul Hoque presented the experience of the popular museum in Bangladesh. A number of participants also presented creative and visual work on the revolution: Raouf Karrai from Tunisia presented his experience of artistic production during the time of the Revolution through drawings; Sahr Burhan from Syria presented on the role of art in the documentation of the revolution; Emir Ben Ayed from Tunis presented the role of the image in documenting the revolution.

Artistic performances also played a significant role in enriching the meeting, with a number of artistic activities based on tales of revolution and the Arab spring. Songs conveying details of the reality that was lived through in Egypt and the Arab world before and after the Arab revolutions were performed during a production by the Mashroo Coral that was staged in the French Cultural Centre. The songs were full of a comedic irony which the audience interacted with outstandingly. A series of films were also shown, in addition to art exhibitions in the Goethe Institute, and a stand-up comedy performance by the group 'Shawari3na' ('Our Streets').

Istikshaf Program: Promoting Mobility

In the framework of the activities of the Istikshaf Program, a meeting of Mobility Operators will be held at the Swedish Institute in Alexandria-Egypt from 24-25 June 2012. The meeting will bring together individuals and organizations across the Euro-Mediterranean region involved in promoting mobility in order to enhance the network of supporters, find common actions and tools, to use and develop the complementarities to become more efficient and to discuss ways to advocate to policy makers to support mobility to contribute to lifelong learning and growth.

Among the key discussion themes of the meeting will be a focus on evaluation tools and ways to measure the impact of mobility funds, and a presentation of best practices for others to learn from, especially in connection to the funds' experience with individual beneficiaries of mobility. Mechanisms for disseminating and sharing this knowledge will also be explored, so that it can be used in their communities via local initiatives. There will also be a presentation on successful advocacy campaign models (best practices) and a discussion on mechanisms for launching an advocacy campaign within the Istikshaf Program, which will highlight the importance and the pattern of learning, and the policies which facilitate and promote mobility.

The mobility operators meeting will be followed by another meeting for the coordinators of the local mobility funds from ten different Arab countries working within Istikshaf program. The meeting will be an opportunity for them to learn about the different initiatives and institutions focusing on mobility in their countries, and formulate an action plan to facilitate the implementation of local initiatives and to network among them.

These meetings are being organized in partnership with the Roberto Cimetta Fund in France, and the International Association for Creation and Training (I-ACT) in Egypt, and with the support of the European Union. The Istikshaf Program Phase II aims to promote and sustain mobility as a precursor and motivator for cultural, educational, economic, and social development, enhancing south-to-south travel opportunities and advocating policy recommendations in this regard. Istikshaf networks between initiatives in the region to promote and advocate for mobility as a tool for learning, via working with Istikshaf's partners and beneficiaries and raising awareness on a broad scale, generating an interest in young innovators and advocating to policy makers the benefits of learning through mobility.

Application deadline extended: Travel grants available for active Arab youth to visit the youth initiatives of King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement

The Safar Program, in collaboration with the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement, is offering active young Arabs the chance to obtain a travel grant in order to visit any of the recipients of the Award. This is as a result of an agreement between the King Abdullah II Fund for Development and the Arab Education Fund- Safar Program, which aims to make the most of the experience and resources of both parties, and use them to serve the interests of a generation of young Arab activists in their communities. The Safar Youth Mobility Fund supports these young Arabs to visit the recipients of the Award to learn from them and communicate with them, in their various locations all over the Arab world.

In order to apply please visit the Safar Fund website:

For more information on the initiatives:

"Our Stories" celebrates freedom and creates a substitute of mainstream media

Every month over the span of two years, in public and open spaces of Alexandria a new form of storytelling was used to empower individuals and enable them to speak out. During those monthly evenings, "Our stories", a project that started in 2009, hosted people coming from underprivileged areas and those who did not have any formal education. The evenings were led by people who are normally sidelined and silenced. They were finally given the space and freedom to express themselves openly.

A new and genuine substitute of mainstream media was born. People from all walks of life and all age groups were coming together to share stories. Their contributions knew no guidelines and did not abide by a single form, moving from a long complaint into a short joke and vice versa. It was a space where people with first-hand experiences were speaking out and reaching out to the public without any mediators. When we first launched "Our Stories", we were striving to preserve the identity of the places in Alexandria, documenting their history through the tales of local residents. However, stories cannot be isolated from surrounding developments and so we embraced the spirit of the Egyptian revolution and traced the stories that celebrated freedom.

From our initial interest in documenting the memory of the place, "Our Stories" shifted its direction and hosted a large number of Egyptian youth who shared stories related to the revolution. It was a watershed moment that we did not hesitate to embrace. People were speaking out tackling repression, their grievances and their journeys towards liberty. The storytelling evenings were suddenly full of life! Throughout the different phases of the project, we learnt that there can be endless forms of storytelling. While traditional forms of storytelling are slowly disappearing, people are creating new forms that correspond to their characters, differences, values and voices. Instead of dismissing these changes, "Our Stories" sought to embrace and support them to the fullest.

The functions of storytelling have no limits. While we had already begun the project with a stated aim of documenting the identity of the places, people drew our attention to other and perhaps more important functions of storytelling. The people we met told us that verbal communication had witnessed dramatic changes, turning into a weak and short form of communication. As they confided in us, people were no longer talking for long periods of time and they wanted to reclaim their voices and willingness to talk. Based on their experiences, storytelling could be a means to survive, give to others and live with them. It could also be used to express values and live in harmony with one's inner consciousness. Regardless, the one thing we know for sure is that our collection of 31 stories, compiled throughout the project, succeeded in empowering those individuals seeking to reclaim their voices and share their story.
Nora Amin, Egypt

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