Aziza Abu Ayash, 22, didn’t know much about cartooning when she heard about a workshop taking place not too far from her home in the Nuzha area of Amman. She had no background in drawing but wanted to learn a new skill.
“I was surprised to learn that cartooning can spread awareness about sensitive issues and that it can be used to spark debate surrounding social issues,” she said.
The training represents a key component of the joint UNESCO-UNOCT “Youth Peacebuilding” project, co-funded by Canada.
In Jordan, the project is being implemented by the UNESCO Amman office. During the past few weeks, the workshops have taken place across the Kingdom in Maan, Zarqa, Amman, Irbid and Mafraq.
“Today, I have been drawing about children’s rights,” Ayash shared. “I illustrated this by drawing a broken heart. In one half of the heart, the kids are smiling and have access to education and healthcare. In the other half of the heart, you see children who have been abused and those with no school or healthcare. I see this inequality around me in Jordan.”
Ayash has known young girls who were forced to leave school to get married.
The workshops have been led by Omar Abdallat, a cartoonist from Jordan whose talents have been recognised throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Abdallat has been drawing cartoons since he was a child. He started his career in graphic design, but soon became a professional cartoonist.
“While teaching these cartooning workshops, I saw talent everywhere I went around Jordan,” Abdallat said.
“In Zarqa, all of the youth who attended the workshop had dropped out of school. They were children who had left school early to seek employment and help support their families. I felt like these were people that should learn how to do cartooning the most; they are suffering and have hard stories to tell. I told them to keep believing in themselves and that there is always time to start over,” he said.
At the workshop in Amman, over 20 eager youth gathered on a Saturday. Mahmoud Sharif Alamairah, 17, came to the workshop wanting to learn a new skill.
“I was surprised to learn that cartoons can spread awareness about human rights issues and help people. I developed a cartoon that showed that violence is not OK. I also tried to highlight how children have a right to go to school,” he said.
Seeking to motivate participants, Abdallat shared inspirational stories with the group. He told them about how the late activist Aya Aghabi overcame her circumstances and worked tirelessly to make Jordan a more inclusive, accessible place.
“I am trying to show young people how they too can be strong, sharing motivating stories with them about people who aim high, despite their circumstances,” he said.
Through this innovative project, UNESCO aims to create opportunities for young women and men to engage as change-makers and peacebuilders in their immediate communities and wider societies, and to promote a constructive vision of young people as leaders, addressing hate-related issues.
Including a pilot cartooning session that Abdallat led in 2018, 92 young people from across Jordan, nearly 70 per cent of them female, have participated in the cartooning training.
Abdallat tries to impress upon the youth that cartooning is a universal language, a simple kind of art that doesn’t require much equipment.
“I remind youth that every story is important. I see cartooning as a peacebuilding tool. You are not only drawing images; you are sending a message, and you can be the change,” he said.
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