Series following a year in the life of four schools in Damascus. At Yarmouk Girls' Secondary, Palestinian girls Shaza and Rahaf bring radical rap to the classroom.
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Damascus, Syria, the oldest capital city on Earth
in the heart of the Arab world.
This series follows a year in the lives of four schools spread across Damascus.
In this episode, we focus on just one school in a particular part of town.
Away from the ancient walled old city,
the French colonial quarters and the modern apartments of Mezze,
It may not look like it but it's a Palestinian refugee camp
that's sat on the southern edge of Damascus for over 60 years.
Yarmouk camp has only one girl's secondary school.
Most of its students are Palestinian,
coming of age in what can sometimes be a socially conservative society.
Their inheritance - three generations of exile.
Their goal - to return to their homeland.
Representing Palestine is no problem for Tulin,
kanun player with the Yarmouk Palestinian Children's Orchestra.
But two girls dream of serving their people's cause in a different way.
Shaza and Rahaf's plan puts them on a collision course with their traditionalist head teacher.
Can Shaza and Rahaf break the mould and become the first girl rappers in Yarmouk?
It's February in Damascus and another day at Yarmouk secondary school for girls is about to begin.
The school teaches 1,200 students up to 18 years old.
It's the only secondary girls school in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus and a refugee camp.
The creation of Israel in 1948 displaced over half of the Palestinians
into camps in neighbouring countries.
Yarmouk is one of these, so 95% of the girls in the school are Palestinian.
As a community in exile, they must tow the line laid down by the host nation.
Morning assembly follows the same pattern as any other Syrian state school
and that includes a daily recital of the Syrian national motto.
As a state school, it follows the baccalaureate system.
Palestinian history is on Syria's tenth grade syllabus and is taught to all the girls.
Keeping a Syrian eye on this Palestinian generation is Syrian headmistress Ghada Dallol.
She expects her girls to progress to higher education.
The right that these girls want most is to return to their homeland.
We can make miracle.
The recent war in Gaza has just come to an end
and the Yarmouk people have been glued to their TVs as 1,300 of their compatriots,
in some cases their family members, have lost their lives.
War coverage on Syrian TV doesn't pull any punches.
The feelings of impotence and anger are running high in the school,
giving rise to some powerful outpourings of emotion.
The students take the opportunity to express their feelings about Gaza in poetry...
..and even in graffiti.
-But 16-year-old Shaza
has her heart set on a new way of telling the Palestinian story.
Not everyone agrees with Shaza's unconventional plans.
But there's one person who has the power to stop Shaza's plans in their tracks - her dad.
The creation of Israel in 1948 turned an estimated 750,000 Palestinians into refugees.
In Damascus, a squatter camp grew up in the Yarmouk area until in 1957, the UN Relief and Works Agency
or UNRWA leased just over two square kilometres of land from Syria for 100 years.
Each family was given a few square metres to build on.
Over time, they expanded their original homes upwards
to accommodate successive generations, creating the narrow and densely-packed alleyways of Yarmouk.
60 years on and Palestinians make up 4% of Syria's total population.
There are over 100,000 in Yarmouk and the UN still collects the rubbish.
Today's schoolchildren are mostly third-generation refugees.
Syria hasn't given them citizenship in an attempt to preserve their right of return,
which was laid down by a UN General Assembly resolution passed in 1948.
The people of Yarmouk remain here still without passports or a state of their own.
The first two years of Yarmouk school do PE twice a week
under the supervision of sports teacher, Miss Ahman.
But not the 12th grade - it's time for them to concentrate
on their baccalaureate exams, the crucial gateway to university education.
But for 18-year-old Safa' Kiwan, sports not academics offer her the best route to the future she seeks.
Safa is the Damascus girls' discus champion.
After school, she heads down to the athletics stadium to train
for the upcoming national schools' championship.
If she does well enough, she'll be offered a place at a sports academy in another Syrian city.
To do this, she needs her family's support.
But this time last year, she didn't get it.
Safa has told her family now, but she didn't at first because she was afraid that her father,
a market stall-owner, would stop her training.
Safa enlisted the help of her grandmother to get to and from the training ground.
It was a surprise to her mother.
In the absence of the official Damascus school's coach, Safa has been getting help
from one of the national coaches, the Bulgarian javelin expert, Danko.
Working with Danko and spending time with other athletes has given Safa a new horizon.
Below the head teacher, the school employs a team of supervisors.
One of their jobs is to maintain discipline.
Miss Affaff and Miss Houda are in charge of the first floor.
17-year-old Tulin is no stranger to their office.
She's been caught eating in the middle of an Arabic exam.
Tulin's family are in a string of businesses in the camp, from a bakery to a menswear shop.
Her father gives her a lot more freedom than many other girls are allowed.
Her father's relaxed approach means that every Wednesday evening Tulin can go to the UNRWA primary school
to rehearse with the Nimreen orchestra, where she plays first kanun.
The Palestinian children's orchestra is in heavy demand because Syria wants to show solidarity
with the Palestinians, especially after the recent events in Gaza.
Last night, they played a concert in the Damascus Opera House, but band leader Adnan Fathallah
is now turning his attention to the week's second major event.
This Friday, they'll play a televised concert to celebrate Mother's Day.
One of the band's standards is an old revolutionary anthem called Strengthen Your Determination.
Shaza has found just one collaborator for her band.
Rahaf is in the year above her at school and shares her passion for rap.
But before the girls can rap, they have to write some lyrics.
The next step on their quest to become rappers is to enlist
the help of a local band who've already brought rap to Yarmouk camp.
Their studio is in band member Mohammed's flat where he lives with his mother and his little brother.
Whoa ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
As the girls are visiting without a male relative to chaperone them,
Rahaf makes a call to her older sister before she does anything else.
The Refugees of Rap are in fact made up of three Palestinians, two Syrians and an Algerian.
Arab unity is one of the prominent themes of their lyrics.
Neither of the girls has ever rapped into a microphone before.
Rahaf plays it safe...
..picking a well-known rap anthem by Dam,
a Palestinian band, based inside Israel
whose song has inspired a wave of like-minded rappers across the region
to pick up the microphone rather than the gun.
Next, Shaza steps up to the mic to try out some of her own material.
It's been a precious opportunity for Shaza and Rahaf, but now it's nine o'clock and it's time to go home.
Shaza and Rahaf aren't the only ones pushing against social boundaries.
Discus champion, Safa', also faces ridicule from her classmates.
With just a week to go before the national championships, Safa' is now in intensive training.
But her trainer, Danko, has been assigned to other athletes
and Aiman, the official schools' discus coach, has taken over.
He thinks she's picked up some bad habits, so he's taking her back to basics.
But strong-willed Safa' doesn't want to start from scratch.
With only a week to go till the national competition,
Aiman's new technique has thrown her off balance.
The school will soon be holding its annual prize-giving ceremony and Rahaf and Shaza have got a plan.
But Mrs Dallol is resisting the influx of western music on TV and the internet
that is now enjoyed by many of her girls.
After dark, Yarmouk comes alive.
Tulin is out shopping with her sister, they're buying presents for Mother's Day.
THEY SING IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Tulin's dad and some of his friends have been enjoying the music.
It's clear that over the last 60 years,
the question of their Palestinian status has evolved into a complex debate.
The school supervisor needs to talk to another troublesome student.
This time it's Shaza's turn to be called into her office.
But Shaza's not going to put her dreams on hold.
She and Rahaf are back with the Refugees Of Rap to record their first song.
Rahaf has impressed, now it's Shaza's turn to grab this precious opportunity.
They ask her to record Rahaf's verse, which she hasn't memorised.
Despite all the encouragement, Mohammed doesn't think they're ready.
Their first recording will have to wait, till they've polished their act.
I don't do any things.
It's 8am. Tulin and her orchestra are fully rehearsed,
and are gathering for the trip to their Mother's Day concert.
They're travelling to Latakia, a resort city on Syria's Mediterranean coast.
It's a five-hour journey.
# If you're happy and you know it, say OK
# If you're happy and you know it, say OK
# OK! If you're... #
Finally they arrive at the cultural centre in Latakia.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
A Palestinian band playing Palestinian songs goes down well with this Syrian audience.
The concert's also being shown on Syrian TV.
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
The orchestra is now attracting nationwide attention, with Adnan as its spokesman.
With all the attention, Adnan is beginning to think big.
While no-one doubts that Tulin is promoting the Palestinian cause,
some girls in the school are not so sure about Safa's discus throwing.
The next morning, athletes from across the country
converge on the Tishrin stadium in Damascus for the national schools' championship.
Many of them belong to sports clubs, and have years of competition experience.
Safa' has home advantage,
and she's brought her whole family along, including her grandmother,
who made this all possible in the first place, tricking Safa's father.
In the discus competition, each girl will get three throws,
then the top eight girls will go on to take a further three more.
The pressure's on for Safa' to make the cut.
Ignoring coach Aiman's advice, Safa' goes all out with a full spin on her first throw.
But she stepped out of the circle,
breaking the strict competition rules.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Two throws, two fouls, but not according to Safa'.
Now Safa' has to score with her third throw to make the cut.
With everything resting on her third attempt,
Safa' plays it safe, stopping well before the edge of the circle.
The first three rounds completed, and the scores are added up,
and it's good news for Safa', as she scrapes into the second round.
But lying in eighth place,
she'll have to lift her game if she's going to take a medal.
But after two more throws, she's still in eighth position.
With her family's encouragement
and her sister turning to a prayer book for inspiration,
Safa' takes to the circle for the final time.
But her confidence is shattered
and her chance of winning a medal has gone.
At least now her father will allow the discus
to be part of Safa's future.
The time has come for the school to hold its annual prize-giving ceremony,
but rap won't be a part of the programme.
The head teacher has gone for something more traditional instead.
SHE SINGS IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
All the top performers in sports and academics are honoured in front of the entire school.
And the head teacher's speech encourages these Palestinian girls into Syrian nationalist outpourings.
For Shaza and Rahaf, events have taken a turn for the worse.
Not only have they been overlooked for the ceremony,
but the school has now taken action against their rap ambitions.
The head teacher also has another reason for stepping into the situation.
SINGING AND CLAPPING
Aware of their bitter disappointment,
the head teacher agrees to give Shaza and Rahaf
a chance to convince her, some teachers and a tenth-grade class of the value of rap.
Next time on Syrian school, the young poets society of Zaki Al-Arsouzi
aim to impress in the writers' showcase.
To find out more from the Open University
about school life in Syria, go to bbc.co.uk/syrianschool
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Five-part series following a year in the life of four schools in Damascus, a high pressure crossroads in the Middle East.
It concentrates on some remarkable characters finding their way in a country that has never before opened ordinary life up to the cameras in this way, challenges the usual cliches of Arab life and charts the highs and lows of the school year.
Yarmouk Girls' Secondary School sits in the heart of a Palestinian refugee camp that has sat on the southern edge of the city for over sixty years. Nearly all its students are Palestinian, coming of age in a society obsessed with its Palestinian identity and right to return to its homeland.
Two schoolgirls are breaking the mould. Shaza and Rahaf dream of serving the Palestinian cause though rap music, but their plans put them on a collision course with their parents and traditionalist head teacher as they try to bring their radical rap into the classroom.