What Walaa Wants | The Cross-Cultural Struggle for Independence
Christy Garland’s What Walaa Wants is an award-winning documentary about a teenaged Palestinian girl living in a refugee camp in the West Bank. Young Walaa is highly ambitious and has a strong will to achieve independence. Despite her unique living conditions, she faces some of the same obstacles adolescents everywhere wrestle with. This element of universality provides educators with an opportunity to explore cross-cultural similarities and differences between teenagers who struggle for independence while remaining determined to define themselves in their own unique way.
To a large degree, Walaa’s opportunities have been dictated by the life she was born into as a refugee. But even though she can’t change the political landscape around her, she wants to ensure that she has a hand in determining what her future will be like. However, this comes with many challenges that she must face, in relation to herself, those around her, and the place she’s been raised in.
The title of the film itself gives viewers an indication of Walaa’s character: it’s phrased not as a question, but as a statement. Walaa does not question what she wants; she knows what she wants, and she’s determined to achieve it. Her goal is to become a policewoman in the Palestinian Security Forces (PSF). This is an unusual choice for a young Palestinian girl, especially a girl who’s known to be a bit of a rebel. How might her rebellious character create problems for her when she enters police training? As a woman, how might Walaa’s character work in her favour?
Relate back to students: What personal characteristics do you have that might impede or benefit you in achieving your ambitions?
Immediately upon entering the police academy, Walaa faces several physical, mental, and emotional challenges. The intensity of daily drills, her inability to develop close relationships with the other girls, and her stubborn character lead her into a downward spiral, and she ends up on the verge of walking away from her only ambition. Will she drop out of the academy or will she persist through the challenges she faces? Explain.
Relate back to students: What types of physical, mental, and/or emotional struggles have you endured or might you have to endure to achieve your goals for the future?
Walaa also has a complicated relationship with many of her family members. She has an estranged relationship with her father and was separated from her mother, who was in jail for eight years. Upon her mother’s release from prison, Walaa welcomes her home but knows she will not approve of her decision to join the PSF. As for her beloved brother, Mohammad, she shares a unique bond with him despite their differences in opinion. How do these relationships affect the character of Walaa throughout the film?
Relate back to students: How might your relationship with your family members have hindered or helped you in achieving your ambitions?
Finally, at the end of the film, more defining moments take place in Walaa’s life, leaving the viewer uncertain about what her future will be. How have these moments influenced Walaa? Is Walaa happy? Why or why not? Is Walaa the same person at the end of the documentary as she was at the beginning? Explain.
Relate back to students: Do you think achieving your goals will make you happy? Why or why not?
What Walaa Wants provides students with a unique glimpse of the life of a young girl in a situation that will seem foreign to many young Canadians. However, her struggle for independence and search for meaning bear a strong resemblance to the journey many young people take to figure out who they are and who they want to be. As students follow Walaa’s journey, they have an opportunity to reflect on the struggles they face on their own path to self-discovery and independence.
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