Performing arts is proving to be a powerful antidote to disunity and displacement in the Middle East.

Since 2011, Ben Rivers, UNE Peace Studies Graduate, has used therapeutic drama and applied theatre to address issues of sexual and gender-based violence, social discrimination and collective trauma arising from the experience of war and displacement.

While studying towards his PhD, he used performance-based workshops in Egypt as part of his research. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers began asking for longer-term training programs to learn drama-based ways of working with traumatised communities.

Now, Ben’s community organisation, Dawar for Arts and Development, brings people of diverse social, religious, cultural and economic backgrounds together and facilitates healing and solidarity through cultural expression.

“Since 2016, we’ve used theatre and drama with more than 600 refugee women and men from Syria, Yemen, Sudan and other neighbouring countries,” Ben said.

Ben’s work has included four years in occupied Palestine.

“In Israel-Palestine, my eyes opened to the horrific consequences and subjugation of the Indigenous people. At the same time it taught me that we can live with humour kindness and generosity under the most brutal of conditions,” he said.

“In every community, I come across extraordinary people who live with hardships and suffering I’ve never had to endure, survivors who are serving others. Their generosity and resilience has taught me a lot.”

Dawar Kitchen is a new offshoot, established to build social cohesion among Syrian refugee women and the Egyptian women of their host country, through a common purpose and meaningful employment.

“We have just completed construction on Dawar Kitchen in Ezbet Khairallah, a large informal settlement in Cairo. It’s a food and catering business providing employment, training and cultural programs for workers and the broader community,” Ben said.

Overall, Ben hopes Dawar is helping create a world where, “creativity, equality and compassion are actively embraced at all levels of society”.

“My peace wish for the region is that states and civil society will begin to make a significant break from fossil fuel dependence. I wish that each city, town and neighbourhood will see a turn towards more sustainable lifestyles and technologies. The future of life on earth depends on it.”  

Image: Facebook – Dawar Arts