Impressions of the International Volunteers, Summer 2005

 

 

Alesandro/Italy

Going to Palestine had always been one of my dreams.

Going to Palestine had always been one of my dreams. I always read about it in the good newspapers (on the web instead of official media) and I arrived to Nablus with a precise idea of the situation in Palestine.

 

Staying there, working with the Palestinian people and kids, and seeing reality with my own eyes was totally different than what I expected. I found incredible, kind people and a lot of friends. Despite the Israeli occupation the people have a lot of energy and a wonderful longing to live. The work with the kids was an experience that gave so much to me. I left my country with the idea that I would give something to them, but I received more than I gave. Thank you a lot to the kids, the volunteers, and all the people of Nablus for this life lesson.

 

Iglika/Bulgaria

We felt some kind of a longing in the air

Everybody in the camp could feel something very special in the atmosphere For me, as for all of the international volunteers, the camp was full of emotions. I had a new experience, learned many fun children's games, and I met very interesting people. I also got to better understand the real situation in Palestine.

 

I think everybody in the camp could feel something very special in the atmosphere, which is difficult to describe with words. But I think it was related to the fact that even though we did not previously know each other, live far away and have different cultures, we all liked each other very much. We felt close and wanted to be together for a longer time; this is mainly because we are united by the same goal, to make life in Palestine a tiny bit more pleasant.

 

Or perhaps we felt some kind of a longing in the air, a longing for something very beautiful, for which one strongly wishes but is very difficult, almost impossible to have; like in a dream or in a fairytale. Probably for some of the local people this was the longing for the freedom of their land, happiness and peace for their people. Or maybe it was the feeling of missing friends from all over the world who have become a part of one’s heart, but probably will never see each other again. Or maybe it was а craving to see places and countries outside Palestine, whose beauty and culture at the moment they can only slightly touch by communing with the international visitors to the city.

 

Maybe for us, the foreigners, the magic was born by appreciating local people who have devoted themselves to a fight for the welfare of their country and wish to struggle to keep their human dignity despite all the humiliating factors (the Israeli soldiers, the checkpoints, the poverty). Or maybe it stemmed from appreciating the fact that sometimes we saw people to be happy and smiling simply because other people were happy and smiling. In my opinion this is a bit different approach to life the one we often see. We also felt something special because of all the nice people on the streets and in the shops being helpful and generous to us. And of course the beautiful children, smiling, laughing, playing, with their original and happy ideas. Or perhaps, the pain and suffering that we saw in some moments, the violence and killings made us wish to do something to make the life a bit better.

 

All this brought some fairytale wind to the place. A lot more could be said, but then I would have to keep writing forever.

 

 

Rawan/United Kingdom

One of the most important benefits… was getting a new family for life

My visit to Palestine was initially for the purpose of getting to know my homeland as well as experiencing and witnessing in person the Palestinian suffering caused by the occupation.  From the first minute I arrived in Palestine this aim was achieved. 

 

However, one of the most important benefits that I accomplished from my visit to Palestine was getting a new family for life. Every adult and child was always extremely helpful, they would do anything to try and make our stay more enjoyable and no matter what the situation was, there was always a smile on their face. As a result this meant there was never a dull moment for the camp volunteers to share.  I am really glad that I have been blessed by being able to meet such great people and I am thankful for all the hard work they put in.  It really was a shame that we had to say goodbye, however I will be back soon so that I can hear Jehad, the camp leader telling everyone to “yalla yalla” ("come on, come on" in Arabic) or the Askar kids giving us the best greetings and the happiest smiles in the morning.  So I will be back, Palestine, and hopefully peace will come soon as the children of Palestine deserve more than what they currently have.  Just like any other child around the world they deserve to have a normal innocent childhood of play, laughter and peace of mind.

 

Thank you to every local and international volunteer for making this one of the best experiences I will ever encounter in life, there really aren’t any words that I can say to express this appreciation. Continue the great work so that many people after me can learn as much as I did and so that the truth about Palestine can spread around the world.

 

OJ/ United States

All I know is that every day is just another day closer to my return to Nablus

The day I arrived back in New York after spending my summer in Palestine, all I could think about was how and when I would to return to Nablus. The second I entered the house, the first thing I did was open up Messenger to try and talk to some of the international and local volunteers. I realized how different life was at home, how people were unhappy over the most trivial things and took for granted the freedom and security that should have elated them.

 

Yes, we slept on mattresses no thinner than a carpet, using a bundle of clothes as a pillow with my legs and arms providing food for countless mosquitoes. But once I came home, the bed I had seemed too soft and luxurious and I found myself scratching at imaginary bites, slightly saddened as the last bites healed. The cold showers we took every morning were quickly replaced by the warm-hearted local Zajel volunteers and the bright faces of the children. I hadn’t realized that I haven’t watched television for three weeks until one night in a hotel room in Ramallah, and more importantly, I didn’t care.

 

The kids at the camp were absolutely adorable. The most difficult thing was to tell them not to do something. Not because they didn’t listen, but because I just didn’t want to limit their freedom in a place where their freedom was already restricted. Several blurry photos of the floor taken by the children when they took my camera are evidence of this, my inability to say no.

 

Unfortunately, I do not have as much of a grasp of the Arabic language as I would like, but this was not an issue as all the volunteers speak English better than some Americans.  

 

Being half Palestinian, I had one of the more difficult journeys into Palestine. I’m not going to lie, traveling was not particularly enjoyable. Waiting six hours under the heat of the sun at the bridge crossing between Palestine and Jordan only to be turned away and forced to take a plane to Tel Aviv was not amusing. Being held at the airport for over 8 hours for “security” purposes, even though I was born in America, have an American passport, and have no criminal history, was not pleasant. Taking a taxi to Allenby Bridge, only to be turned away to take another 2-hour cab ride to King Hussein Bridge to exit Israel because, “that’s where people go if you came through the airport,” was not entertaining. No, traveling for me was not fun, just like it isn’t fun for Palestinians. But I am not saying it wasn’t worth it.  I would have stood in line for hours, I would have taken a 6-hour cab ride, and I would have waited at the airport for days if it meant that I could go to Nablus for just one day and spend time with the best people on earth. 

 

No, I don’t think I could possibly give back as much as I have received. All I know is that every day is just another day closer to my return to Nablus. 

 

 

Mate Kurucz/Hungary

I feel that I owe the Palestinians something

Looking back at the three weeks spent in Nablus, I feel thrilled about having gone there. I didn’t expect such a rich experience. Working with the children at Askar refugee camp gave the foreign volunteers a chance to give something back to the local community that so willingly took us in. The afternoon workshops were important in providing useful background information and helping us understand the Palestinian perspective on various political and cultural issues like the Oslo peace process and the situation of women in the region. But the thing that meant the most to me was our interactions with the local volunteers. These boys and girls were not only willing but eager to share with us their personal and often painful experiences during the occupation.

 

We found it was next to impossible to talk to a Palestinian who didn’t have someone from their family killed, used as a human shield during an operation or severely beaten up by soldiers of the Israeli army. We can only begin to understand what they must be going through, for a great majority of us coming from Western cultures have never had to endure such things. What I can imagine though, is how hard it must be to rise above these grievances, and instead of giving up and lapsing into passive self-pity, find productive and peaceful means of making the situation better - and this is exactly what our friends in Nablus are doing! This three week long project was a perfect example.

 

Another thing I felt after hearing these stories of sorrow is confusion. Since back home the media's interpretation of the situation in Palestine often suits the Israeli side more, the impression I had before arriving greatly contrasted with my experience on the ground. I am now coming back to Hungary with a sense of commitment to learn more about the whole issue. I also want to share what I saw, to let people know both sides of the story.

 

Another thing that changed in me during the camp is my level of involvement, I feel much more drawn in now. I feel that I owe the Palestinians something. I find it hard to live with the thought that somewhere people I know are suffering without me trying to help them. Going back home, I will find ways to aid their efforts for a better future. Expect the Zajel home page to eventually be translated into Hungarian and at least one other volunteer from Hungary next year! Inshallah.   

 

 

Kim/South Korea

Working with the children at Askar refugee camp was the best work I've ever done. This work camp was first voluntary activity that I have ever participated in. I learned about situation in Palestine, Islamic culture and much more that I did not know before. In Korea, I will spread the truth about the Palestinian situation and Islamic culture to my friends, seniors and the Korean people. I will recommend this work camp to my friends.

 

Last Saturday, I recommended the Zajel work camp to other people and they showed interest in Palestine. Because of enjoying the camp, learning about different cultures and Palestine, I can easily recommend it to others.

 

Thank you to all volunteers. I would not have been able to complete this work without the help of local volunteers, Jehad, Diana, Ghazal, Asem, Jihan, Omar, Mais and everyone else. I will always remember the smiles of the children at Askar refugee camp, the landscape of Nablus, the market of the Old City, the wedding party of Ala, the mountains of Nablus, the view from the top of the hotel at night, and the women of Palestine, so many impressions overall that all remind me of the beauty of Palestine.

 

I think that working with the children at Askar refugee camp was the best work I've ever done. The children are very, very beautiful and I love them so much. The work camp has improved my attitude so that I can do hard work in my life. I want to visit Palestine again. I discovered a lot about the cheerful side of Palestine and I am so happy that I had this chance and an amazing experience in these three weeks.

 

Noemi/Switzerland

The local volunteers who took care of us and were great people with huge hearts.

it's really hard to write about my feelings so instead I'll start with a short story: back home I'm always getting asked if I wasn't scared or afraid all the time. So I have to answer: NO, not at all. I felt very safe and the only time I was scared was because of this stupid cat that was trapped between the window and the iron in the middle of the night. But the reason I never felt scared was also because of the local volunteers who took care of us and were (and still are) great people with huge hearts. They made us smile and took care of us when we didn't feel well or when we were down. Somehow that was hard to accept, because you think that it should be the other way around. I mean I'm from Switzerland, I have a safe life, a red passport that allows me to travel the world, my university never closes and I never hear shooting. But I went to Palestine and found a bunch of lovely people without any privileges and still, they made me smile, laugh and I admit, sometimes cry.

I had a good time with the kids. At some moments you were playing with them and making jokes, forgetting that they're living in a refugee camp. In other moments you're looking in a face of a two year old with no expression or sign of emotion on it and I just felt very helpless, not knowing what to do, consumed by a feeling so desperate to see any kind of expression on this little face.

Before I came I was a little bit suspicious of all the people I was going to meet there, I didn't know anything about them. But I have to say that instead I made a lot of new friends. I learned many things from them, from the locals as well as from the internationals. I really missed them when I came back home, especially the talks with the locals which were of the most interesting parts, they made me realize that I had a little clue about real Palestinian life.

So in general: I had a great, sometimes hard, time, but it was worth it a million times over!

 

Mincheol/South Korea

History which does not tell the truth is doomed to repeat itself over and over again.

 I was ashamed to learn the true facts about what happened and is happening in Palestine and was so unlike what I had imagined. After I have experienced the life of Palestinians, I have to accept that I had been brainwashed by the distorted mass media that intentionally hides the truth. Having known a false story, I thought Palestinians had the freedom to move and the right of free expression and so on. In reality, they don't have such human rights; rights which are stated in the Nation's Charter and that everyone is entitled to have as we are all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality and race.


Whenever they go from city to city or want to go anywhere in West Bank, even if it is seemingly under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians have to be checked by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. The soldiers ask a lot of questions before they allow them to pass, The only thing that I couldn't understand was that even I was treated as an assistant helping “terrorists”. Why should Palestinians live in a tight squeeze like a prison? Even though I stayed only three weeks, I felt that I was living in a jail without windows.


Nevertheless I found the bright side in the situation of what Palestinians are facing because I was impressed to see that they are very positive and optimistic enough to get over bad things which have made them frustrated and upset. Finally, I believe that the Palestinians will triumph because history never tells a lie as we are able to discover evidence that supports the truth easily through the past. 


I have learned many things how to live and what I want to do in the by having taken part in this work camp. I promise to stand for Palestine by spreading what I have seen and heard to my friends until the Palestinians regain their liberty. We have to avert the repeat of such a disgraceful history by letting people know what has happened in Palestine.

 

 

Ala/United Kingdom

Children are still able to play, smile and laugh

I have never felt more at home and more safe than I did during those three weeks. Wow. Where to start? My overall impression of the camp is generally very positive,   showers are cold here (which actually work out perfect to cool down after a hot day of playing sports).

 

The camp was an experience I would recommend to anyone. It will change your perspective on life.  It seems like I have never felt more at home and more safe than I did during those three weeks in the school, in Nablus, and in Askar.

 

The children we worked with were honestly a delight to be around. They are so full of life and energy. It’s incredible that despite everything they have seen and been through they are still able to play, smile and laugh. But most of all they still want to reach out to people, strangers like us, who came for such a short time, allowing us to enter their world, sharing their hopes and dreams with us. It was beautiful. There are times when it can seem a little overwhelming though, with kids demanding your full attention all the time, remembering your name and expecting you to remember theirs!  Nevertheless it was the best fun working with them. I shouldn’t even say “working” as it was more playing. I, being who I am, seem to attract chaos wherever I go, and this suited me and the kids just fine. We had a great time making a mess in the art room, our lame attempts at learning Dabka, sports under the heat of midday sun, acting silly in drama, singing out of tune in music, and countless other activities.

 

The local volunteers were all wonderful. They also, just like the children, opened their warm hearts to us in so many ways: spending time with us, and sacrificing their lief in every morning to be there with us when we went to Askar.  They are generous and welcoming, allowing anyone to feel right at home. They are a fountain of knowledge on local history and customs, and are glad to answer any question. It is incredible to hear their stories of life in Nablus. Very educational. I was always kept entertained by them all just talking, laughing and joking around (and of course smoking arguilleh, something you can get very used to over there!)  They looked out for us all the time, making sure we felt as safe and happy as possible. I love them all dearly and feel I have a new (very large) family over there. Thank you locals!

 

Seungdae/South Korea

It was an even more amazing experience than I had expected.

This was my first summer camp and the first time I have been out of my country. I'm very glad that I came to Palestine. It was an even more amazing experience than I had expected.

 

During this work camp, I had problems communicating with volunteers because my English is not good and I'm bashful in company. But when I was with the children, my mind was at rest. I couldn't understand their Arabic... of course neither did they understand my Korean. But we have in common body language (especially eye contact). It's more than enough.

 

From this work camp I got a lot more than what I expected. Despite my lack of English skills, I've made a lot of friends around the world and especially from Palestine. Thank you to all the local volunteers for working with us in these activities.

 

 

Manja/Netherlands

I've learned so much about Palestinian life and people

I've learned so much about Palestinian life and people… more than I could possibly list here! I've learned so much about Palestinian life and people… more than I could possibly list here!

 

I loved the kids and it was very nice to really do something to give them some love and attention. It was nice to be able to add something to the programs of the teachers and to feel like we were able to help.

 

I used to believe in a two state solution but now I see that the situation is much more complicated. The refugees should have the right to return to their homes and they should get compensation but it will be hard to let them return. Israel will probably not want to let them in but the international community should pressure Israel to let them return. I still believe that the only possible solution is a two-state one but it will take lots of time. I had a great time and learned so much.

 

 

Ursula/Switzerland

When everyone works together, I believe that change is possible.

The refugees live in a situation that definitely needs to change! But for sure this is hard to achieve. The international community definitely must make sure that everything is done to give a future to Palestine and I will do my part by telling the Swiss people. When everyone works together, I believe that change is possible.

 

I'm very glad that I came to Palestine. It was very important. I found out that this topic interests and touches me a lot and that I want to keep being informed and active.I became conscious of the fact that you have to pay attention to the news that is given to you, because it only shows a little part. You have to go see yourself if you really want to know the truth.

 

In one way I felt sorry for the kids of the refugee camp because they grow up in a difficult place. But I didn't want to show them so I just tried to treat them like kids and was happy to see that they laughed with us. I hope that the future will bring them positive things, that some of them go on to university and that they will be able to achieve their dreams.

 

We were able to give them extra attention, even if only for a few days. And we opened their eyes that the world is big, that people look different and speak different languages but that you can achieve something and have a good time when you work together. I hoped we showed them in a way that there are people outside Palestine that care about Palestine and about them.