Zenobia, Queen of Syria

From Syria and now living in West Yorkshire, Basema describes building a giant puppet about to be paraded majestically through Batley and Dewsbury

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My family and I were referred to Friendship through Puppets – the creative workshops that 6 Million+ and Creative Scene are running in Dewsbury – through the Kirklees Resettlement team.

We came to the UK two years ago from Syria and hadn’t done anything creative in a bigger group since I arrived here. I didn’t know what to expect – only that we would be creating a giant 10-foot puppet of a Syrian woman for a parade in Batley and Dewsbury.

When I arrived at the first Friendship through Puppets workshop, I learned that the Weeping Sisters are giant puppet figures that remember the lives lost in the Holocaust and other genocides around the world. They have been made by refugees, students and local people all working together.

The Syrian Sister – who we would be creating over the course of six short weeks – would join the six other Weeping Sisters representing German, Jewish, Kurdish, Bosnian, Roma and Burundian women. After seeing these other Sisters close up, six weeks seemed like a very short amount of time, as we only meet for a couple of hours on a Sunday.

We decided our Weeping Sister would be based on Zenobia, an ancient queen of Syria and a very strong woman, who welcomed people of all beliefs

At the beginning of the process, we all sat down together to discuss what we wanted the Syrian Sister to be, what her story and experiences would be. It was important to us to represent Syria in the way we want it to be represented, rather than someone else deciding for us. There are so many assumptions made about Syrian society – that we’re all primitive or that we don’t have our own history, which is not true – so we wanted to create a Sister that challenged all those expectations.

Syria is a matriarchal society, something a lot of people don’t realise. And so, after much discussion – and coffee and cake – together we decided our Weeping Sister would be based on Zenobia, an ancient queen of Syria and a very strong woman, who welcomed people of all beliefs.

I’ve attended every one of the workshops. I’ve been really involved in making the costume for the Sister – sewing and crocheting. But everyone is involved in a different way. Some of our teenage participants – who have all become firm friends during the process – are our stilt walkers for the parade, some people are creating the dove puppets, and others are guided by our artist Naomi to do whatever they fancy on the day, like painting and drawing for the publicity. Even young children have been involved.

But the workshops aren’t just about making the Syrian Sister. They’ve been about meeting other Syrian people, those who have come to Kirklees from other countries and British families, students and artists too. At the workshops, our group learn something about Syrian culture as well as the troubles we have faced – and I learn too about the experiences of Jewish, Kurdish, Bosnian and other people who have escaped conflict and come to the UK.

At the workshops, Kim and Adam from 6 Million+ also connect us to wider campaigns to raise awareness about refugees. At a workshop last week, we all created orange hearts to support the Together with Refugees campaign. It feels like I’m part of a bigger community, part of a group of people who care about creating a more just and fair world.

I can’t wait to share the Syrian Sister with the wider community. And I hope that when people come and see the parades in Dewsbury and Batley on Saturday 6 November, that they see what can happen when people from all walks of life come together to achieve something beautiful.

It’s been a pleasure to be involved in Friendship through Puppets. I’m so grateful to 6 Million+ and Creative Scene for creating the chance for us to take part in this very special project. I’m very proud and happy that Friendship through Puppets is happening.

The Friendship through Puppets Parade is on Saturday 6 November at 11am in Dewsbury town centre and 2pm in Batley town centre. See creativescene.org.uk. For further information about 6 Million+, please visit 6millionplus.org

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