Closing the activities of the “For A Better Future”

International Voluntary Work camp 2005 

Zajel Youth Exchange Program, of the Public Relations Department, finished its international voluntary work camp on Thursday. The camp lasted for three weeks running from 1st - 20th August 2005. The international volunteers, that attended, worked in the Askar Development Center, where they devoted their time in order to give the children of Askar refugee camp an opportunity to develop a better psychological state from the bad conditions that they were encountering. The international volunteers were accommodated in two schools, where volunteers could interact with the local community and played football with the neighbors, 

The voluntary work that began every day morning, and lasted for three weeks, consisted of:

 Painting: Volunteers were painting on one of the walls of the camp. The painting incorporated pictures of the children, some pictures of the disabled children and their right to life. Other paintings were done on stones and cartoons as well as posters. 

Psychological Release: Some games for children were done in order to help release the tension caused by the current conditions of the occupation. The idea was to develop their abilities and self confidence by using different methods of release. 

Music: Some local and western songs were sung. The international volunteers taught the local children to sing some western songs while, in return, the children themselves taught some of the local Palestinian songs that reflect the Palestinian traditions and heritage. 

Drama: Children were given the chance to express their feelings and themselves in a way that empowered their self confidence.  

Sports: Football games and different sports and games were played, creating a better interaction between the international volunteers and the local children. 

Dabka: The traditional folkloric dance, Dabka, was performed. Folkloric songs were performed while a trainer instructed the international volunteers to perform this unique Palestinian traditional dance. 

The cultural theme of the international voluntary work camp included different workshops and lectures; the goal of such activities was to create a background to the Palestinian culture and history. Some of the workshops were: 

Presentation on the history of Palestine 

Mr.Saed Abu Hejleh, Director of the Public Relations department, made a presentation on the history of Palestine, the root of the conflict and the important phases of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Another slide show was prepared by the volunteers of Zajel, where pictures of the Palestinian people, their heritage and culture were presented to the audience. 

Slide show on the History of Nablus City 

Engineer Naseir Arafat, an active engineer who takes care of the renovation projects in the Old City of Nablus, made a presentation on the history of the city. He showed old and unique pictures of the city during the Ottoman age and during the British mandate. He explained the architectural designs of some of the buildings of the Old City. He also showed the photos of some of the traditional and typical houses before and after the invasion and the destruction of the old city in 2002. 

Workshop about Palestinian Woman 

Mrs. Falak Khayat, a woman activist and the director of the women's defense association, came to speak about the historical background of the Palestinian women's struggle to be librated from traditions at the beginnings of the 20th century. She also presented some controversial issues within the Islamic religion, such as: polygamy and sex. A debate took place at the end of the presentation and both sets of participants, Palestinians and westerners, had the opportunity to discuss their perspectives toward each of the topics. 

Mrs. Khayat began by talking a bit about her life; how she was born in Safad Town and lived in Haifa then moved to Syria and Lebanon before returning to Nablus, when she got married. She talked about her experience of getting married, especially considering that she was still quite young at that time, and she mentioned an important concept that Arab woman used to face before, and sometimes still - the concept of not knowing how to say “no”. Women are obliged to accept everything that the family imposes or that the husband and children ask for. 

She spoke about how she started to think more about herself after her children had grown up and left for university. It was then she thought about doing something useful for her society and in particular for women who were mal-treated. The defence society was established and opened a hot-line, which is now open 24/7, to receive calls from women or members of families who face any kind of violation (whether beating, rape …etc.). She had seen the number of people calling to ask for help grow from just a few women in the 1990's to thousands in the last three years. 

Mrs. Falak then talked about some social problems that girls and women face and the relationship between Islam and regulations in regard to women and how they’re treated. The discussion was then opened up and volunteers asked questions concerning these topics and more, in particular about freedom and limits of liberalism in our society for women. It was then that all the volunteers, especially the locals, started to talk about the concept of hijab and the relationship between traditions and religion.  

Workshop on the Ethnic Cleansing in the Former Yugoslavia 

Nadim Burkaan, a volunteer from Slovenia, prepared and gave a presentation on the historical background of the conflict in the Former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Power Point Presentation included scenes of the civil war and maps of the six states of the Former Yugoslavia. A discussion about the conflict and its roots took place and many questions were raised about the religions in the area, the potential for tourism and the Dayton Agreement that put an end of the civil war.  

Tour in the Refugee Camp of Askar 

The international volunteers had the opportunity to tour the refugee camp of Askar and witnessed the Israeli siege imposed on the surrounding villages of the refugee camp - the siege that did not enable the villagers to move from their villages for a few months. The volunteers also saw the impact of building an Israeli Jewish colony in front of the refugee camp, as it has led to shootings against the refugees' homes and has caused terror and fear. 

Interviews were prepared with some elders who were born in Palestine before the war of 1948. These elders spoke about their lives in their villages before the Diaspora and the deportation of their families to the West Bank towns. They also spoke to the international volunteers about the hard life they had to go through when they had to live in tents and caves for a few years. 

The international volunteers benefited from these interviews and could obtain another point of view towards what had happen during and after the war – a time that could be considered as the most difficult phase of modern Palestinian history. 

An exhibition about the Nakba 1948 was opened by the Askar Development Center, where posters and pictures of the deportation of the Palestinians were shown to the international volunteers as well as to the local refugees of the camp. 

Football Match between the University Team and Zajel Volunteers

The Deanship of the Students' Affairs and Zajel Youth Exchange Program organized a football match between the elite students of the university team and the international volunteers.

The match resulted in a good performance by the university students, who scored three goals, while the Zajel international volunteers could only record one goal in reply. 

Samaritans visit

On the top of the Samaritans mountain of Jerzim, the international volunteers managed to pass the checkpoint in order to reach the Samaritans minority and visit its museum. There they were met by the high priest, Husney Kohen, who gave a presentation on the origins of the Samaritans and their history up until recent times. He also explained the customs and roots of this small minority in the region. This was followed by some questions and the chance to take some photos of the museum and village.

 Church visit

International and local volunteers visited the Roman Catholic Church in the old city of Nablus. The Priest spoke about the historical conflict between the eastern and western church since the time of the Crusaders campaign. He then spoke about the impact of the Israeli destruction and invasions on the church that took place in April 2002, when innocent citizens lost parts of their homes. In the past five years the church has been damaged three times and partly destroyed. He mentioned the difficulties that the Palestinians face in order to get their independence and stressed the importance of getting freedom and liberty. He also spoke about tolerance and co-existence.


Korean and Italian nights

A Presentation about the Italian culture and traditions was presented by the Italian volunteers. They spoke about the rich culture of Italy and its well known food. Another presentation was given by the Korean volunteers who participated in the work camp; the presentation was about the independence of Southern Korea and the proposals of the reunion of both sides of Korea.

Host families

Some local volunteers invited the international volunteers to their homes, where they enjoyed meeting the families and had a better understanding of the Palestinian culture and traditions. Volunteers got the opportunity to listen to the local families talk about the hard times they had gone through. Some of them explained to the volunteers the Israeli violations to the Palestinian citizens' rights and spoke about the victims' loss of their families.

Closing the Activities

The work camp was closed with a ceremony that took place at the auditorium of the university where the Director of the Public Relations department, Mr. Saed Abu Hijleh, thanked the international volunteers for their support and solidarity.

Mr. Ala Yousef, the Co-ordinator of the Youth Exchange Program, thanked the participants of this summer's camp. He said: "It is my pleasure to see the international volunteers coming from different parts of the world to work with us, in order to build a better future for our people in this neglected corner of the globe."

Manja Smithss, the spokeswoman of the international volunteers, spoke on behalf of the international volunteer about her experience in Palestine. She also thanked the local volunteers who had accompanied the internationals in order to ensure their safety. She thanked the Zajel program for giving her this opportunity to see the hardships of life in Palestine. She also spoke about the deprived children of Askar refugee camp.

An impressive presentation of photos showing the different parts and phases of the work camp was displayed. At the close the volunteers were given a letter of appreciation issued by the Public Relations Department.