Arts Canteen: Stirring the arts, promoting resilience and tolerance

My blog at The New Arab

On a warm London evening, Aser al-Saqqa welcomed the audience to the Rich Mix concert hall in East London, and enthusiastically introduced the Iraqi singer Nadeen al-Khlalidi and “TarabBand“.

The band played a mix of Arabic, Middle Eastern and Western music. In addition to cheerful love songs, Nadeen sang about surviving and sharing stories as a way to cope with “scars of wars and loss”.

Nadeen’s powerful songs reflect her determinations to keep on embracing life, singing and dancing to cope with her grief. Nadeen is a refugee now living in Sweden.

“Let’s talk and be more open,” she told me. “Let’s talk about our happiness and our grief. There are people who do not like to talk about how they feel. They are ashamed of letting their vulnerability show. But I think my vulnerability with your vulnerability becomes power.”

This concert was organized by Arts Canteen, an organisation presenting Arabic arts and culture to UK audiences, supporting independent and emerging artists, challenging stereotypes and enriching cultural diversity and mutual understanding.


Please continue reading the blog at The New Arab website


Everyone an Artist, a Scientist and a Human

– My article published in “197 Piccadilly” Magazine, winter 2016, page 8

For refugees, the most humdrum action can be a trigger. When Syrian journalist Fardous Bahbouh visited the Eco Fun Palace it was the simple act of crochet that brought back the memories.


‘That is absolutely incredible!’ exclaimed Sara as she extracted DNA from a strawberry. She looked astonished and amazed as she did the extraction and wondered, ‘Can I touch it?’ For her, the extracted DNA looked ‘A little bit like chewing gum!’ This was one of the activities of the amazing Sunday event of arts and science at the Eco Fun Palace at St James’s Church bringing the community together and celebrating nature and our planet Earth.

The day included a variety of activities such as the Universe Story, science activities, fossils, competitions, drumming, dance, singing, community artwork, bio-media meltdown, crochet and much more. I really enjoyed the day not only because I love science and arts, but also this community event was held at the beautiful St James’s Church which I have visited many times for concerts and the market. I particularly appreciated the event Bethlehem Unwrapped in the heart of London.

The Eco Fun Palace was entertaining, informative and social. I loved tree rubbing and observing the invisible movement of particles in the cloud chamber, in addition to the nice chats I had with people at the event and during the group visit to the Linnean Society. I really enjoying losing myself among these intriguing fascinating activities.


And when I saw the crochet workshop, I immediately joined to try it. The lady was very kind and she gave me a thread and a hook. But suddenly, this intimate community setting brought so much tears to my eyes. It brought fond childhood memories of my late aunt who taught me how to knit. All I could see in front of me was her smiley face, and feel the immense horror of losing her to cancer.

I prayed for her beautiful soul and for all the brave people fighting cancer and all family members and friends supporting a cancer patient or living with the sacred memory of a loved person who lost their life to cancer. I hope science will make real advancement to find a cure for cancer.

Grief is something that unites us all. For me, it is extremely sad that because of the war I could not go to see my aunt in Syria as she bravely fought cancer. Her memory stays with me, among other scars of war that I try very hard to hide as a I live as a Syrian refugee who has made London my second home. I still struggle to grasp the enormity and horror of tragic war. But having a community here helped me stay resilient and defiant. I had countless encounters with great people who renewed my faith in humanity. We all love peace and want to see an ethical and durable solution to the war so we can go rebuild our country.

‘I learnt that every small act of kindness can make a difference.’

I believe in God and I believe that war will end and justice will prevail. But until then, we all can help and contribute something to alleviate the suffering and bring the world closer to where it should be. With my friends, we started Ahlan Wa Sahlan, meaning welcome in Arabic, a grassroots organisation which aims to help refugees build a new life in the UK. It has been an incredible journey and it is great to witness all the good well in our community. I learnt that every small act of kindness can make a difference. It really touched my heart when I heard that St. James’s Church is also planning weekly sessions to help refugees.

It is heart-warming and empowering when I remember that Jesus was a refugee and prophet Muhamad was a refugee. I do feel I belong here and I am proud to be part of the welcome movement. Empathy and compassion are the core values of our shared humanity.  All in all, the Eco Fun Palace at St James’s was aimed at showing that everyone is an artist, and a scientist. But it also showed that everyone is a human.