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Ali Mahdi, director of SOS Children's Villages Sudan, has been officially named 2012 United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Artist For Peace for his work bringing drama performances to children in the frontline of conflict in Sudan.
The National Director of SOS Children in Sudan, Ali Mahdi is also a renowned actor and theatre director. Last week, he was honoured in an official ceremony which took place in Paris for his work with child soldiers and refugees throughout Sudan.
UNESCO Artists for Peace are Goodwill Ambassadors, internationally-renowned personalities from arts, music, poetry or literature, who use their influence, charisma and prestige to help promote UNESCO's message and programmes. This honour recognises Ali Mahdi’s work using theatre, music and drama to promote dialogue and support peacekeeping processes. His work has shown that exposure to theatre, as well as to culture in general, can contribute towards the rehabilitation of children affected by tragic situations.
In 2004, Mr Mahdi founded the Al-Buqaa Theatre, which travels around conflict zones in Sudan staging plays based on traditional African stories. Their aim is to involve everyone, especially child soldiers and refugees in camps, and encourage them to work together peacefully. Mr Mahdi explains how the project started. “I used to see child soldiers hanging around the market looking for food, defiant, and consumed by violence: with every two words a fight could erupt. They would not talk nor met my eyes, no smile, no words.”
Mr. Mahdi approached them and told them a different story every day for seven days. On the eighth day he asked them to take part in his theatre, “I told them it was their turn to do something and that they will act out the first story together, because theatre is group work. At first they refused, because they used to fight each other. The next day they came back and agreed. They rehearsed together and decided on roles, which was not easy.”
The Al-Buqaa Theatre builds bridges across communities, by offering participants a safe environment to communicate their emotions, be creative and retain traditions. Mr. Mahdi explains: “Theatre can help children to express their trauma and reflect about their inclusion and exclusion” he says. “In a conflict situation where many tribes, cultures and languages are present, singing to the same melody in different languages makes participants realise that everybody has something to offer.”
Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, says that theatre is a powerful medium for change: “Theatre has the power to move, inspire, transform and educate in ways that no other art form can. Theatre reflects both the extraordinary diversity of cultures and our shared human condition, in all its vulnerability and strength."