One after another, the acrobats take off in a succession of somersaults and fly through golden rings before landing softly on their feet.
Their mouths wide open, children are following every movement on the stage of the Splendid China Acrobatics Circus.
“I’ve never seen such things before,” swears 12-year-old Dalal Abdel Hadi, on her first circus visit ever. Not only the spectacle, but the whole evening has been overwhelming for her and 59 other children from Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. They have come on a special outing to the Beiteddine Art Festival, an annual event that started in 1984, bringing culture, creativity and normalcy in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war. Today, the festival is known beyond Lebanon for the quality of its performances and its dedication to transforming them into something magic.
On the bus ride through the Lebanese Chouf Mountains, many of the children from Beirut admired the beautiful scenery for the first time. When they got to the festival they were amazed by its location. The Beiteddine Palace, built 200+ years ago by a Druze emir, is filled with painted balconies, mosaics and sculpted stonewalls. So when the Chinese artists started to jump through rings or build human towers, some of the children wondered if what they were seeing was real.
“One of them asked me if the acrobats were genies,” laughs Hoda Abbas, from the Najdeh Association. “It is very important for the children to get out of the refugee camps from time to time. Everything is so narrow and cramped there. They need to experience large and open spaces as well.”
Without the generous invitation from Nora Jumblatt, the festival’s president, and her commitment to offering Palestinians access to the country’s cultural life, the children could never have afforded tickets for the circus. She donated 60 tickets to Anera and we partnered with Najdeh, a local organization, to organize the trip from the Beirut camps of Shatila and Burj El Burajneh to the circus.
The following day, Najdeh gathered the children and had them draw their impressions of the show. “I want to be in a circus someday,” ventures 12-year-old Asma Youssef, “but we have nowhere to learn juggling here…”. Sitting quietly in a corner, Ghofran Abdel Fatte, 12, is among the Palestinians who recently fled Syria. “I was so impressed. Our school never took us anyplace!” Until today, Ghofran’s longest trip was his escape from Damascus to Beirut.
For the camps’ children, attending such events means much more than merely watching a show. They discover their own country, experience different social contexts and, above all, find new sources of inspiration.