Finding refuge in theatre

Theatre program inspires self-expression and creativity among young Syrian refugees

A group of university students and artists have teamed up to develop a program that aims to foster creativity, solidarity, and personal development amongst young Syrian refugees. Together, these young minds hope to tackle global issues by providing a creative and encouraging outlet for these youths.

The collaborative project is called the Sawa Theatre program and is being produced by Asha Nelson, Shaden Abusaleh, and Kamillah El-Giadaa. As a team, they share a passion for theatre and believe it is one of the most expressive art forms.

One of the producers, Shaden Abusaleh, has previously actively engaged in programs to help Syrian refugees and First Nation communities and fight for women’s rights. For her, Sawa Theatre is just as important as it promotes self-expression and inclusivity amongst individuals who struggle with such themes.

“Sawa is all about providing a safe creative space for these youths, a place where they can express themselves,” Abusaleh told the Manitoban. “Our programs challenge them to try new things and new ways of reaching out to others.”

“One of the first things we ask them is to tell us what they don’t like about the program and they actually tell us how they feel. For them, to be able express themselves like that to people around them – that’s the goal.”

The Sawa Theatre program features workshops, content creation sessions, team building exercises, and theatre games that are geared towards empowering and encouraging youths.

“The response has been great. I have been particularly impressed with how interested and committed these youths has been in the activities. You can see the impact it is having on their lives,” said Abusaleh.

Abusaleh believes the participants are particularly impacted by what she calls “step out of your comfort zone” moments that occur every now and then. For her, these moments capture the essence of the program.

The theatre program has partnered with Gas Station Arts Centre and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People to present a theatrical performance that is will be staged at Gas Station Arts Centre, located at 445 River Avenue, on Sept. 9 and 10 starting at 7 p.m.

The theatre performance, titled JUNUN, is a bilingual piece to be performed in English and Arabic by the participants of the Sawa Theatre program. The play follows a series of interwoven stories of loss, betrayal, hope, love, and trust.

“The play is an original creation and is performed by a cast of young people whose characters are a reflection of their identity. People who come to see it will be captivated by that authenticity and with its themes of love, loss, and self-expression.”

With this play, Sawa’s cast and crew hope to harness the power of theatre – one that can be used to inspire imagination, creativity, self-expression and change.


For more information, find Sawa Theatre on Facebook and Instagram @sawatheatre. Tickets are available at or for pickup at the Gas Station Arts Centre.