We want to bring some joy and light to Gaza

The bombing of a cultural centre in Gaza this summer has prompted Aileen Ferris of Cork Circus Factory to organise a fundraising event, aimed at bringing a bit of light back into the lives of Palestinians living on the Gaza strip, writes GRAINNE MCGUINNESS
We want to bring some joy and light to Gaza
Karen Dunn, Aileen Ferris, Louisa Slone, Lara Cantalapiedra, Jimmy Bray, Macha She Wolf and Arjen Stotberg from Circus Factory Cork launching their show Circus for Gaza Cabaret Fundraiser Evening. Picture: Darragh Kane

A CIRCUS cabaret is taking place later this month in Cork city to raise funds for community projects in Gaza.

On October 20, more than a dozen performers are taking part in the Circus for Gaza Cabaret at The Circus Factory on Centre Park Road. Proceeds from the event will go to help community work among the population in Gaza city.

Organiser Aileen Ferris, who is also performing on the night, outlined the reasons for the event.

“When people think of Gaza they think that what is needed most is things like water and electricity, which are so important,” she said. “But I think people underestimate the importance of things like social involvement in the community, exercise and enjoyment.

“The arts and circus performing help with that and are so valuable in a place like Gaza, where life is extremely bleak at the moment.”

Close to two million Palestinians live on the Gaza strip, an area less than one twentieth the size of Cork. The area has been under blockade for more than a decade, with people not free to enter or leave and extremely limited economic activity.

“There was a theatre in Gaza, called Said al-Mishal Culture Centre, which was also used as a training space by different groups, people in the circus community, dance community, music and drama groups,” Aileen said.

“It was the most important cultural space in Gaza and it was bombed by Israel and completely destroyed in August.”

The bombing took place at night and there were no casualties but the attack was widely condemned internationally for the damage it did to cultural life in Gaza. A group of leading UK theatre figures described it as a “devastating loss for the already isolated community”.

Karen Dunn and Louisa Slone from Circus Factory Cork launching their show Circus for Gaza Cabaret Fundraiser Evening. Picture: Darragh Kane
Karen Dunn and Louisa Slone from Circus Factory Cork launching their show Circus for Gaza Cabaret Fundraiser Evening. Picture: Darragh Kane

Aileen agrees, describing it as an attack on the heart of the community, but is anxious to emphasize that the fundraiser is not political.

“This is not me taking a stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” she said. “This is about innocent people living in a very difficult situation, they are suffering a lot. This is about trying to bring a little light and joy into their lives. This is about the humanitarian need, it is not about the political issues.”

The funds raised will go directly to the circus and performing arts community in Gaza.

“All the money is going to go toward buying new equipment, because they lost a lot of equipment, and to fund learning programmes so they can grow their skills, expand their community and help more people,” Aileen said.

The demographics and economic situation in Gaza makes social and community programmes absolutely crucial. The area has one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, with almost half of the population made up of children aged 14 and younger.

According to the World Bank, in 2018 unemployment amongst 15-29 year olds reached a staggering 60 per cent in Gaza. Military attacks, including air strikes, are a regular feature of life and thousands of people have been injured or killed in 2018 alone.

The recent decision by US president Donald Trump to cut funding to agencies who support the Palestinian population is expected to have a devastating impact on life in Gaza.

“The unemployment rate is so high, particularly for young men, that they really need something to keep them occupied and give them a sense of purpose,” Aileen said.

“Plus, clowning in particular is really, really important for the children. If you are a child in Gaza aged nine or older, you have lived through three wars. A lot of the children are suffering as a result of that trauma and clowning is an outlet for them.”

She has received a lot of help and support while organising and believes people in Cork have a real understanding of and sympathy for the Palestinian situation.

“I think maybe it’s because of our similar history,” she said. “We know what it is to be colonised and that is still going on for them. And I think Cork in particular is quite republican and has always had support for other freedom movements over the years, going back even to the black civil rights movement in the US.”

There will be numerous different performers in the cabaret, including aerial acrobats, jugglers, spoken word performers and clowns. Tea, coffee and baked goods will be available and there will be a prize raffle on the night. Doors open at 7pm for show at 7.30pm.

Organisers have suggested an age of 14+ as the event is not created for children, but that is advisory only and parents can choose whether or not to bring their children.

Tickets from www.evebtbrite.ie or at the door on the night.

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