In early 2020, Dr. Yasmine Shamma reached out to Theatre Director and Integration Manager of Reading Refugee Support Group, Jude Haste. Yasmine was interested in launching "The Haneen Project" - creative-writing workshops focusing on the reading and writing of poetry, for Arabic speaking refugees. Planning to ultimately take these workshops to the camps of the Middle-East and Europe, Yasmine was aware of the local refugee community in Reading and considered it a meaningful place to start this endeavor. Keen to run creative writing and performance workshops in the future, Jude welcomed the proposal. But within weeks the pandemic spread to England and the possibility of meeting was tabled, along with so many other things.
Jude reached out to Yasmine and others at the University of Reading who had been interested in leading initiatives at RRSG. Within weeks, the Covid 19 Digital Projects were set up, and Yasmine's "Haneen Project" offered in its first iteration as a creative writing workshop under RRSG.
Haneen is Arabic for "longing," "craving," "yearning," and or "nostalgia." The root of the word is "hanan" which means affection, motherhood, and care. Throughout poetry writing workshops to date, and indeed the interviews chronicled in this "Making Home Away" archive, the haneen that refugees tend to express is for their mothers and homes.
The Haneen Project is a nascent creative arts workshop endeavor aimed at offering refugees and asylum seekers a platform for exploring and sharing their experiences of displacement, in poetry and performance. The first incarnation of the project has been as one of three Covid 19 digital projects incorporating drama, radio, and poetry, under the umbrella of Reading Refugee Support Group's Roots to Routes platform, led by Theatre Director Jude Haste, RRSG's Culture and Integration Manager. Jude and Yasmine Shamma have been working together to coordinate and lead (respectively) the poetry writing workshops, despite pandemic limitations. The result has been a weekly virtual drop-in session for local refugees. With an "anyone, any language welcome" approach, Yasmine has been leading the workshops in English and Arabic, alongside artist and translator Lina Zawati. Fusing Jude's experience working in Theatre, with Yasmine's in Education and Refugee studies, and Lina's in Art and Translation, the project aims to travel thorugh various spaces of displacement as a workshop available to refugees in the UK and Middle East.
Showcased as part of Reading Fringe, the project will continue virtually for the time being. Yasmine hopes to travel with it more widely as “Haneen” — bringing it to refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East in 2021, and other community engagement spaces throughout the UK. Though it was first conceived of as an in-person workshop, as a result of the pandemic there is the possibility of making it virtual, and thus accessible to a wider, albeit displaced, public.
Currently operating as a volunteer-created pursuit without institutional funding, The Haneen Project will continue in its initial iteration as part of RRSG's "Roots to Routes", while moving into being offered in refugee camps in the future, once travel is permitted again. For more on the project's evolution, click here. You can also hear Yasmine interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the project's origins, aims and future plans.
Poems and more will be published soon. Until then, for any queries regarding the Haneen Project or the Making Home Away archive, Contact Yasmine.
RRSG is a registered charity. Donations accepted here.