Impressions of the International Volunteers, Summer 2005
Going to Palestine had always been one of
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.
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
All this brought some fairytale wind to
the place. A lot more could be said, but then
I would have to keep writing forever.
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
Children are still able to play, smile and
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
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
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!
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.
I've learned so much about Palestinian life
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.
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
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.