"It was the first time for me to watch a live play. Some scenes touched my soul so much that I felt tears in my eyes. I liked that Gibran was very proud of his Arab culture. I also liked his persistence and patience in order to fulfil his dreams", described Reham Ghanem, one of the students in the JRS-Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) programme.
Eleven other JC:HEM students, from Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, joined Reham at the theatre.
The JC:HEM online diploma programme was implemented in June 2012 in Amman. It serves as the first free tertiary education online programme for refugees in the region. The first class, comprising 19 students, attend lessons together daily for three hours, allowing them to learn together – lessons have both online and offline components.
"Rest Upon the Wind" features British and Jordanian thespians in a story about Gibran's struggles to pen The Prophet at a time of personal turmoil. It features the difficult reconciliation of his past life as an activist and artist fighting for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. It then discusses his new life as a refugee in the United States where he encounters discrimination and faces the difficulties of resettlement in a new environment.
These issues resonated with Tamim Arif, the on-site facilitator for JC:HEM, "We all identified with Gibran. In our struggles, our fears, our joys. There is a refugee in each one of us, regardless if we recently came to Amman or were born and raised here", he said, "Often we feel displaced in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. It was exciting to see a true example of heroic leadership in Khalil Gibran's play about a philosopher/writer, his intellectual journey and his bumpy ride. We left the theatre reflecting and associating Gibran's life with our own".
The timing of the play could not have been more perfect for the JC:HEM students. As the inaugural cohort in Amman, the students are concluding the first course in their JC:HEM programme, Bridge to Learning facilitated by Mary Lawrence at Regis University. In this course, the students addressed various topics including self-management, turning points, and leadership in all facets of life. The arts and literature featured extensively in the class-readings and discussions, including passages from renowned authors like bell hooks, George Orwell, Harper Lee and Chris Lowney.
In addition to utilizing these authors for their skilled use of the English language, the students have discussed a variety of challenging topics, including inter-cultural communication and competency, self-awareness and leadership philosophies. Thus, it was no surprise to see the students enthusiastically discussing Gibran's brilliance as an artist, the family and community support system that lifted him in times of failure and rejection, and his reiterated purpose in life despite volatility and violence. As they have done all semester with the assigned readings and in-class discussions, the students related their own life experiences to that of Gibran's and in the process developed compelling insights.
This JC:HEM cohort have proven to be willing and thoroughly engaged students, and as such, they have created an intellectually vibrant class and community. The conversations, analysis and critiques spurred by the play reflect the potential of a gifted group of students who have challenged the facilitators as much as they have grappled with difficult materials. In many ways, "Rest Upon the Wind" was not only an opportunity for student exposure to the arts, but a celebration of how much they have grown since the beginning of the JC:HEM course.
Basil Mahayni, JC:HEM volunteer
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