I saw two films at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival today, both first-person accounts from eloquent boys. Faridullah's Day Off was a touching account of a young boy from Afghanistan who dreams of going to school, instead of the brick factory, when the muezzen's call to prayer awakens the family each day. Rising in the darkness, the whole family - from the 5-year-old daughter to the father - march to work in the barren, exposed wasteland in which they make bricks. Debts for food and shelter since their house was bombed will probably keep Faridullah an indentured worker his whole life.
"Other children hold book and pencils. I hold a shovel," says Faridullah. "I'm tired of being tough. But I'm doing my best."
Wiping his brick-dusted cheek with his dusty hands, he falls asleep to dream of owning a restaurant with a garden. He and his sisters would eat well and enjoy life, giving free meals to people who couldn't pay. I pray his hard life doesn't harden his generous heart. His final advice to children - "Working is good, but only work part-time, so you can study." May a generous soul give him that chance.
“I'm tired of being tough. But I'm doing my best.” Faridullah in Faridullah's Day Off
The second film followed Tamer, an 11-year-old boy, through his daily life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in Bethlehem. The title, "Since I was Born," refers to Tamer's living in the Dheisheh refugee camp all of his life, as did his father Nader, and his father's father, from the age of 3 until his death. He was shot at age 65 by Israeli soldiers for breaking a curfew to buy milk.
The days we spend with Tamer, he is waiting for Israel to respond to his request for a permit to see the Mediterranean sea, just 15 kilometres away. Having just spent two weeks in Bethlehem, visiting another refugee camp and speaking to other children who've grown up under occupation, this film deeply touched my heart. Seeing Tamer mourn at the grave of the grandfather he never knew almost moved me to tears. But the greatest heartbreak was seeing this boy's innocent dream of seeing the sea, and breathing freedom for the first time in his life, be denied. As his father said, what security risk can letting children see the sea pose? On the contrary, not letting them see it may turn them into freedom fighters, because they will never forget that the occupation prevented them from seeing the sea.
I breathe freedom deeply every day. Is that too much to ask for all of earth's children?
Listening to his son's disappointment and desire for justice, Nader reflected that his own childhood was stolen. He fears he won't be able to protect Tamer's from the same fate. His own hopes were that going to the sea would help him feel 16 again, and give a break from the occupation to his wife and other children. His wish is that Tamer will be an ordinary 11-year-old, not a martyr, but one of Tamer's pastimes is throwing rocks at bottles, improving his aim to throw rocks at soldiers. Since his grandfather was killed, and his father jailed and tortured at 15, it's no wonder that when soldiers enter the camp, homes, and take away other boys, Tamer fears he will be next.
While I can personally relate to the challenges of no water, stressful checkpoints, the sounds of explosions, and being surrounded by a security wall, I can never fully empathise with it because whenever I want, I can fly out. I've swum in the Mediterranean. I breathe freedom deeply every day. Is that too much to ask for all of earth's children?