Dalal Odeh

PHOTOGRAPHY: Afif Amireh

‘Through stories, we connect with each other’ 

Meet Dalal Odeh, A Guardian of Palestinian Heritage Through Storytelling

‘Where does the flower come from? The world knew not the beauty of flowers – their captivating forms, intoxicating scents, or vibrant hues. Did they only exist in the realm of dreams?’ Dalal Odeh begins, drawing her students into the story.

‘There was once a young girl named Salma who loved to play in the garden. Her favourite word to play with was ‘mama’, and she would repeat it joyfully, savouring its sweetness like a piece of cherished candy. As she delighted in the repetition, ‘Mama, Mama,’ — the word fell from her lips like seeds and sprouted into beautiful flowers in the garden’. 

This short story, written by the renowned Palestinian poet and writer Zakaria Mohammed (1951-2023,) captures the essence of Palestinian storytelling. This interpretation of the origin of flowers celebrates the power of language and imagination in helping to shape children’s understanding of the world.

The Power of Stories

Dalal Odeh, storyteller, drama teacher, researcher, and a guardian of Palestinian heritage, brings beautiful narratives such as this to life. Through interactive storytelling, Odeh engages children in thought-provoking role-play, and encourages them to explore different perspectives for self-reflection and growth. ‘I use drama to help children learn about themselves through role-play.’ With a background in drama education and folklore, Odeh uses storytelling and folktales as powerful tools to educate and empower communities.

Central to Odeh’s work is a deep reverence for Palestinian heritage. Through her academic endeavours and grassroots initiatives, she diligently documents and celebrates Palestinian culture. Her pursuits range from award-winning research on the intricate cultural significance of Palestinian amulets to collaborative efforts with traditional weaving practices and oral histories with Bedouin communities. Her unwavering dedication is evident in her commitment to preserving Palestinian culture and safeguarding it for the benefit of future generations. ‘Through stories, we connect with each other. This approach helps people reflect on their own lives, and that’s very important.’

Raising Voices

Another story Odeh loves to share with her students revolves around a mysterious well. In this tale, the well was once a place where people made wishes. Over time, fear arose among the villagers that a monster dwelled within, causing many to avoid it. ‘Sometimes, children end up discovering that their fears are unfounded,’ shel explains. Through role-playing and discussion, she helps the children confront and dispel their anxieties, encouraging them to see that their fears, much like the mythical monster, often have no real power.

In a country marked by social and political turmoil, Odeh’s storytelling has been a unifying beacon. By working in communities like Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, she uplifts marginalised voices, and provides a platform where their stories can resonate and endure. In collaboration with the Mada Center in Silwan, she integrates residents’ narratives spanning pivotal events like the Nakba of 1948. Odeh contributed to these efforts by incorporating these stories into her performances and workshops, ensuring that the voices and experiences of the community were heard and preserved. Similarly, in Sheikh Jarrah, she orchestrates storytelling sessions to empower residents to share their lived experiences. 

A seasoned storyteller, Dalal Odeh’s influence extends far beyond the confines of her workshops and performances. Through her advocacy for the integration of folk narratives into educational curricula and therapeutic practices, she ensures that the legacy of Palestinian storytelling endures for generations to come.

‘It’s not just about wisdom but about adapting stories to fit our current situation and help us grow.’ 

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