Coloring Peace with Ethiopian Children in IsraelPosted: 2014/02/02
Text: Solveig Hansen
Fred Jeremy Seligson is the Founder of Children’s Peace Train, a project in which children are invited to create drawings on the theme: Peace in my own life. In 2011, he conducted a series of Children’s Peace Train workshops in Israel together with his daughter Eloisia and in cooperation with IFLAC. Among the participants were Ethiopian Children in Haifa and Sefat. Seligson’s article below reflects the difference in children’s performances depending on whether or not they are encouraged to express themselves creatively.
Since the Peace Train was established in South Korea in 2002, its railroads have expanded to more than a dozen countries all over the world. After drawing their picture, the children can download a certificate making them a Conductor of the Children’s Peace Train.
Coloring Peace with Ethiopian Children in Israel
By Fred Jeremy Seligson
1. Falashas near Lake Tana
2. Leo Baeck School
Falashas near Lake Tana
In 1971, while serving as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer I took a trip by myself near Lake Tana in search of the Falashas, the Ethiopian tribal people who claimed to be Jews, descended (as incidentally all Ethiopian Christians and Muslims, also, do, from Solomon and Sheba). I arrived by bus in a sleepy town, and after making inquiries was guided to a house where a Falasha schoolteacher was residing. It was a white painted mud and straw brick dwelling. In the smooth mud paved living room stood a cow. Upon my entrance it proceeded to urinate and the liquid flowed down a slope to a ready-made drain. Then the cow proceeded to shit. The teacher’s 12 year old daughter, wrapped in a white cloth shawl ran over with a wicker basket and caught the excrement before to hit the floor. Smiling broadly, she carried it outside, made a pancake of it with her hands and patted it on to the wall to dry, for future use as fuel.
The teacher agreed to guide me to the Falasha village. Next morning we set out together across an almost plant-less plain. Soon it grew hot and after a while it was so hot that I started seeing mirages, including a lake shimmering in the air. This was exciting because I have never seen a mirage before. After some hours trekking through the wilderness we came across a sign stuck in the ground at the foot of a hill. It read, London Missionary Society to Convert the Jews. This was shocking. That they would have the audacity to track us down, even here, to the most remote corner of the Earth!
Finally we reached the village. There were about a dozen grass, stick and mud huts. The people wore white cotton robes, herded cows and raised bees. It was a land of milk and honey! The men wore skull caps and professed to be Jews. In fact, a teacher arrived sometimes from Israel to teach them Jewish scripture. They said that the London Missionary Society had established a school on the hill and they had offered the Jewish children an education in return for conversion to Christianity. Apparently the villagers had not yet taken them up on the offer.
Years later, during the mass chaos, destruction and killing of the Ethiopian Revolution, the Government of Israel evacuated thousands of Falashas to Israel, where they would receive orientation and be accepted as Israeli citizens.
All would not go well, however. At first, many Israelis would have difficulty accepting black Africans as fellow Jews. Most Falashas were processed through camps where they would live, with some freedom of movement outside, until deemed ready to assimilate into the greater society.
Leo Baeck School
In the summer of 2011, invited by Ada Aharoni the President of IFLAC (International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace) I arrived with my 16 year old daughter Eloisia for the purpose of conducting Children’s Peace Train workshops (An international project of my own that began in South Korea in 2002) around the country. The first place that Ada arranged for us to visit was the Leo Baeck School in the city of Haifa. This is a large complex of modern buildings housing classes from kindergarten through high school and open to multi-ethnic and multi-religion children. Among the classes in which we ran Children’s Peace trains was a class of Ethiopian kindergarten children.
We entered a long classroom with a long table and about 20 little Falasha boys and girls sitting around it. As soon as I greeted them in Amharic, “Tenastaley! (Good day!)” and “Indeminaley!? (How are you!?)” and “Indeminalesh! (How are you?)” their faces lit up. When I introduced myself by my Ethiopian name, “Ferede,” they virtually rolled out of their chairs with laughter. Altogether, having been given instructions, paper and crayons, they each drew a picture of “Peace in your own life.” These children lived in town and not in camps. They had art and other teachers, and so they knew how to draw. The pictures showed smiling children, mothers and fathers, often inside of hearts, a shining sun over a hill and such. They had a sense of how to draw objects, shapes and how to express emotions in their figures. They got very excited during this activity. I asked them to stand up and show and explain their pictures to each other. Then somehow they stood in a line and holding their pictures over their heads they began marching and singing the Peace Train Song I taught them, “Come along brother. Come along sister …. We’re Riding the Peace Train, Ahahahahaha!” Round and round the table they marched singing and smiling. Suddenly the director of International Programs came in and exclaimed, “What’s going on here!?” I said, “They’re dancing with the Peace Train.” Then she saw, yes, they were dancing and happy, and exclaimed. “This is so wonderful! I’m surprised, so much could be accomplished just by asking children to draw a Picture of Peace!”
A few weeks later my daughter and I were staying in Sefat a Jewish spiritual community in the middle of Israel. Up above and below the hillside town were communities of Falashas living in Government compounds. They had freedom to come and go but mostly their lives were confined to plain identical apartments and dry grounds surrounded by high fences. We tried to gain entrance to the upper settlement to offer a Children’s Peace Train Workshop, but the Druse guard could not get permission for us to go through and speak to any authorities. A few days later by chance upon visiting a healer for treatment of sore “Computer elbows,” I noticed his office was right by the back entrance of the Falasha compound. Children were milling around there without having much to do. Armed guards stood by the gate. I got out a stack of paper and a bunch of crayons and started drawing a picture in plain sight of the children. Shortly some girls ventured out and over. I offer them some paper and crayons and they began drawing. Soon a rush of children flooded out of the gate and the sidewalk was filled with boys and girls from about 5 to 13 drawing frantically. Not one was making a shape or form. All they were doing was drawing lines back and forth: at the most carpet patterns, and changing colors from time to time as fast as they could. As if starved for any kind of creative activity, as soon as one page was filled with color another was asked for. Finally an older boy came over and urged them to return to the compound. I left with a feeling that these children were suffering a great deprivation, and desperately needed an art program for their creative self-expression. Hopefully conditions will improve, for I will, also, send this report to Israel.