Finnish National Theatre and Finnish Institute in London organised theatre and circus workshops for Syrian refugees in Istanbul last week. The drama workshop was lead by London-based community artist Arjunan Manuelpillai, and the circus workshop by Finnish circus artist Kalle Lehto.

The participants were children, aged between 9 to 12 years. They got involved via Zad Al-Ghanaa, which is an organization delivering food and clothing aid, and improving the working abilities of Syrian refugees, who are living in Istanbul.

“The workshops have had a great impact. Mothers are happy, when kids are happy. The kids don’t have dads, and they have only little to be happy about altogether,” describes Mona Alobeid from Zad Al-Ghanaa.

All the children, who took part in the workshops, have lost their fathers due to Syrian war. The families are poor, so most of the children are begging or peddling after school to support the family. The workshops aimed to create a respite from the everyday life, and to teach new creative skills for the children and the locals volunteering in Zad Al-Ghanaa.

“You could tell that guided creative activities are not usual for the children. In Finland, children have them all the time in after-schools and hobbies. Here, children have to work after school,” sums up Kalle Lehto, the founder and artistic director of Finnish contemporary circus group Race Horse Company.

Turkey has received the biggest number of the Syrian refugees. According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, over 3,5 million Syrian refugees, of which 70% are women and children, are living in Turkey. The vast majority of them, in total 94%, are living in the cities and the rest 6% live in the refugee camps. Small number of working permits, and the lack of social welfare lead to the risk of economic exploitation and poverty.

Syrian civil war started as peaceful protests in 2011. During past seven years, half a million people have died or disappeared. About 5 million people have fled from Syria and 6 million are living as internal refugees.

The workshops are part of Finnish National Theatre’s documentary theatre project Undocumented Love, which will premier in the spring 2020. The Finnish Institute in London is participating in the research for the project.


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