Spring School is coming

While the team in Gaza work on the storyline for the course, the team in Glasgow have applied to present the OPAC project at a new and exciting initiative coming to the University of Glasgow from the 9th to the 11th May this year: a Spring School run by artists and academics working with the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Art.

The Spring School aims to ‘showcase the ways in which individuals, communities, societies and institutions have accommodated and hosted each other’, looking at ‘multiscalar understandings of integration as a practice rooted in hospitality, at all levels of society, from the individual and home, to local communities, institutions, cities and towns, to the national and international’. We thought this sounded brilliant. You can find out more about the Spring School on the UNESCO chair page.

We also think that the OPAC project is great. Our challenge has been to work out ways to communicate this without seeming too obvious or biased, too academic, too caught up in technicalities. What would be fun and interactive yet give a real sense of the delights and difficulties that are part of working multilingually, collaboratively, across cultures, and only ever online? What would show the potential of technology to help communicate language and identity? How can we talk about the capability approach without people falling asleep from too much theory?

So, from a growing swirl of questions we plucked some key words: technology, Arabic language, Palestinian culture, fun, learning. These will all feature in the 90 minute workshop we have proposed for the Spring School. We would like to share our plans for the workshop because in itself it will be a taster of the OPAC project as a whole, drawing on the Capabilities approach that we keep on going back to.


We plan to start with a taster Arabic lesson, using materials developed for the OPAC course. As core teaching material we want to use a short video from what will be the first lesson of Unit 1. In traditional ‘teacher language’, the topics covered are simple greetings and introductions. In the language of capabilities, learners will develop the capability of affiliation – social interactions, expressions of welcome. These are the building blocks for then developing more affiliation capabilities, such as imagining the situation and life of the other or expressing emotion and concern.

Participants will then have a chance to ask questions about the OPAC project, issues surrounding technology & remote learning, and the taster lesson itself – whatever they want to know more about. It will be very interesting for us to hear what participants have to say: by this point, in early May, the pilot sessions for the course material will be finished and we will be making changes based on feedback, so the timing for yet more comments and questions would be perfect. During the Q&A session we hope to include colleagues from the Gaza team via Skype, so that participants will be able to speak with the teaching professionals who will be delivering the online course when it is launched and publicly available.

After all this language learning and thinking we though that people might need some refreshments, so the second half of the workshop will be a guided lesson through preparing za’atar, a typical Palestinian condiment. We really enjoyed collaborating on the Za’atar recipe on this blog, and wanted to develop the experience further.  This part of the session will involve very simple instructions  in Arabic for the mixing and preparation of the ingredients. We will use English to explain and explore the affective dimensions of the food being prepared.

What does that mean? It means that we will talk about the huge cultural significance of the ingredients of Za’atar, for example olive oil from Palestinian olives. Some of the olive trees in Palestine are hundreds of years old and date back to long before the current occupation and siege of Palestinian land. However, many families have been separated from the land they farmed from generations, the ancient trees destroyed to make way for Israeli settlements.  This will connect to the capability of emotions, specifically expressing anger and grief for loss.


Bread is another very important and symbolic element in Palestinian food, and is often eaten with Za’atar as a snack or as part of a larger meal. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote a famous poem called ‘Ummi’ (‘My mother’), which begins with the words ‘I long for / the bread of my mother’ and goes on to list the many things he longs for and misses connected to his mother. In this poem ‘Ummi’ can be understood as Palestine: Darwish is moved by longing for the bread, the coffee, the touch, the many memories of the homeland he has lost.

Once participants have made their Za’atar, we would like to share some delicious Palestinian bread with them, as well as Darwish’s poem ‘Ummi’, both read in its original form, translated into English and put to music by the Lebanese singer Marcel Khalifa: we hope to end the workshop enjoying food, music and poetry together after having learned about new words and new ways of looking at familiar things such as bread and oil.

Wish us luck!



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