Impressions of the International Volunteers

 Summer 2006

 

 

Abulhassan Al-Jaberi – the Netherlands

My new friends, my new home

When I met the internationals in Jerusalem, I was still wondering whether the camp would live up to its expectations. But then I met the locals. Spontaneously I started teasing and acting like I knew everyone, locals and internationals, for years. That was exactly how this camp was: i felt like we had been friends for years and we had last seen each other only the day before… Seriously, from the first moment in Abdelrahim Jerdani School we just started chatting and laughing.

 

The Askar kids amazed me most. These kids… under these circumstances… are full of enthusiasm, life, joy and energy. From the moment I saw them I became one of them: playing with them every day, being ripped apart by ten of them, being chased by twenty of them, buying candy bars for seventy of them… and afterwards missing all of them.

 

It feels like I’m more experienced now and I know more about me. People go through the worst things here and they can still have a good time. It hurts to see them suffer. I started to regard the Palestinian cause as an even bigger duty. I really hope I can give them something back in the future.


 

 

Adam Kershaw -- UK

Keep pushing

I can’t remember the last time I met so many nice, interesting, smart people in one place. This workcamp came about by chance for me, and up until the last minute I didn’t think I would have enough money for the flights. Thankfully, I made it, and I’m so glad I did.

 

It has been a really inspiring experience, and I’ve made friends that I’d like to keep for a long time to come.

 

I hope you guys enjoyed the camp, and that you learned some things from us internationals. I’m going now, with so many happy memories and great experiences, and an altered perspective on Palestine.

 

Keep pushing. I (and many others) will be thinking of you all for a long, long time. Inshallah, this is not goodbye.


 

 

Mohammed Ali Amla -- UK

My brothers and sisters in Nablus

My heart always longed to travel to the blessed land of Palestine. I didn’t know what fate had in store. The only words I can use to describe these last few weeks, is it’s been an ‘emotional rollercoaster’. I’ve smiled, I’ve laughed and surely I have cried.

 

Why so many tears you may be wondering? My tears began in the Old City of Nablus, as we were given a guided tour; to visit such an old city is an honour especially when each road has 100 stories to tell, very much like all the people you meet. Each child at Askar will bring a smile to your face. However, each has his/her own story to tell which would soften the hardest of hearts. When children have their childhood stolen by the occupation, the psychological scars are apparent. The children make the most of the opportunities available and you will always see them playing and smiling.

 

Coming to Nablus has taught me many lessons. One which I shall never forget about the Nablusian people: no matter how tough life becomes they keep continuing with life. To live is their only hope for a better tomorrow.

 

I have never felt as welcome as I have been in Nablus. I came as a stranger but was greeted like a brother. It’s been great to share thoughts and emotions: at such a turbulent time in history we discussed, debated and disagreed. We shared many smiles and many tears, I’m sure I’ll be in contact with this diverse group of new friends, I will never forget my brothers and sisters in Nablus who have a special place in my heart.


 

 

Fernando Peinado Alcaraz – Spain

I’ve renovated all my energies

This is my 2nd visit to Palestine and I feel I’ve renovated all my energies and I am sure I’ll come back soon. I love staying in this country because I feel very close to this friendly and hospitable people and Palestine will always have a place in my heart.

 

I have the dream of becoming correspondent in Palestine. In case I don’t achieve this I will fight for your rights whatever I do in my life. I thank the Zajel program for all your good work, now it’s my turn to work when I come back to my country. Be sure I will do my best!


 

 

Gregory Melus – USA

Their love of life and untiring spirit is an example to everyone

 

This was an unforgettable experience that has impacted me in ways I have not fully understood. I thoroughly enjoyed every part of the camp. How do you describe the friendliness and warmth of an entire people who overcome so much!

 

Every local volunteer made me feel extremely safe and welcome in their hometown. The lectures were very intensive. I feel that I have a more accurate perspective of the situation, and I have real experience to support my conclusions. It allowed me to reflect on my personal beliefs as well as some of the minute differences that exist between the faiths.

 

The cultural events were fun, and of course the work at Askar was extremely rewarding. Working in a refugee camp was inspiring because seeing children’s resiliency in such a difficult situation can only make me stronger. Their love of life and untiring spirit is an example to everyone.

 

I would like to thank all the volunteers from the bottom of my heart. They showed so much patience with the international volunteers and were wonderful hosts. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone, as much the internationals as the locals, and God willing we will see each other again.


 

 

Holly Kilroy – Ireland

We have learnt more than a thousand books could teach us

 

I could never have imagined the time I have spent here in Palestine. We all know about the conflict but no one can possibly realize the extent of it till they’re here. Every single person has a story to tell; every single person, a tragedy. And still, we did not find a broken people, but a people strong, proud, ambitious and full of a joy for life.

 

We came here expecting to teach kids and see what life was like in Palestine. Instead we have learnt more than a thousand books could teach us. We have not only seen what life is like here, we have lived it. We have felt the sorrow and the anger as well as sharing so many laughs and smiles.

 

The people of Nablus are the most welcoming people I have ever met and the kids are just fantastic. So energetic, enthusiastic – classes were never boring! Despite all the troubles they face on a daily bases they laugh and play as if without a care in the world. So many are so smart, we can only hope they get the opportunity to reach their full potential.

 

Yet we know now, the sad reality is that many of them won’t. Checkpoint hold ups, humiliation, falling in with the wrong crowd and being witness to the horrendous war crimes of the Israelis: these stifle the potential of so many one could almost give up hope.

 

But then we look to the local volunteers of Zajel and of Askar. These people have strived to make a difference. Despite the difficulties that each and every one of them has faced, still face and will face, they work to help people in the same situation as themselves, to help foster a better future for the people of Palestine. I really do wish we had more people like this back home.

 

All our worries and complaints seem so petty and meaningless standing next to them. Our three weeks in Palestine have taught us the fatal danger of our ignorance, a few words of Arabic, and most of all an awe inspiring lesson in the strength of the human spirit. Hopefully what we contribute is not just contained in these three weeks but instead what happens from here, what we say and do when we get home.

 

In our hearts and in our minds,

This is the start of something big.

Thank you Zajel, thank you Askar

Thank you Palestine


 

 

Loes de Kleijn – the Netherlands

Why can’t I bring you guys with me?

 

At this moment, at the end of the camp, I feel like I’m leaving all my friends, I want to go home to see my old friends, but why can’t I bring you guys with me?

 

The whole camp was an experience I will never forget. I learnt so much and met a lot of people; I feel like some of the volunteers will be friends for years.

 

If I tell you about my feelings towards the kids I would talk for hours. I really enjoyed my time with them and I wish I could have seen them more often. Every time I saw the smiles on their faces I felt so good… Every time the kids were doing the dances I taught them I felt like I really gave them something to remember, and I felt so proud that I taught my kids to do these dances. My feelings about the whole camp: Great, I loved it!


 

 

Mark Robert Hesling – UK

I am already thinking about my next trip here

 

There must be something about Nablus that I really like because this is my second time here. I haven’t even left yet and am already thinking about my next trip here next year. At first it can seem like a large, bustling, intimidating place but actually it’s one of the friendliest, warm and welcoming places I have ever been to in my short life. The locals are embarrassingly hospitable, the internationals are great people, and the time I spent here – though now it seems like it’s gone in a flash – will live with me as a very happy memory.

 

Time flies when you’re having fun, but I hope it was not just that, and whilst we are here and whilst at home we can do whatever we can to help make Palestine free, and that the country can be rid of the ugliness of occupation and will be as beautiful as the people here are.


 

 

Micha Ovtchinnikov – Switzerland

Just one big family

 

The consequences of the “Information War” are very apparent here and the situation is unjust to an extreme, yet seeing it in practice gives an insight as to how to combat the plague of propaganda, here and back at home.

 

The experience provided by the Social Development Centre in Askar Refugee Camp and the kids has proved to be beyond the craziest expectations I have ever had. Apart from one or two distinct features of my life back home, nothing is as pure as the friendship the kids and volunteers have created and cherish. This was a great test, a practical one, for the promotion of human dignity. One word: respect.

 

I would never have thought to see a city as beautiful as this one amidst the horrors. Nowhere have I felt that the city is just one big family as it is here. As a human I am attracted to this place and it truly is home to me.


 

 

Nuno Coelho

Friends in Palestine

 

I have to say I enjoyed so much being outside my daily environment back in Portugal, coming to Palestine and being surrounded by such interesting, dynamic, cheerful people – both local and international.

 

Sometimes I felt that working with children was an excuse to make us come here and have loads of lectures on Palestinian issues, because it seemed we spent so few mornings in Askar. Anyway, I enjoyed the lectures, and to be told about Palestinian issues was also another reason to come here in the first place.

 

Apart from the more intense moments (for the first time I heard shots and bombs in my life) I never felt in danger as the staff always took good care of our security. Sometimes they were extra-super-ultra-careful (never letting us alone for a moment) which made me feel I was ten years old again. That was a bit annoying, but that I’m also thankful.

 

Count on me to be a Zajel ambassador back in Portugal! Now I can say I have friends in Palestine.


 

 

Rory Myles Byrne – Ireland

Inspiring, amazing, sad, traumatic, overwhelming and fun

 

Inspiring, amazing, sad, traumatic, overwhelming, fun – the adjectives to describe this experience could fill a dictionary. Putting to paper such an experience is possibly the hardest task I’ve faced on this trip – it will take months for it all to sink in and become clear in my mind. Years of studying the conflict from afar do not compare to a single day in this amazing and contradictory land. The suffering, humiliation and daily oppression of these proud people (of which we experienced only a minute amount) are a sad condemnation of the state of the world and international community of today.

 

The people here, both local and international, have been inspiring and the extent, length, and context of our long debates and late night talks have been without parallel in my life. The nature and way everyone here has a story of tragedy as a result of the oppression is unbelievable unless you’ve taken the decision to come here. People with bullet holes from childhood injuries, regular middle-class people with no connections to the resistance who’ve been subjected to the torture, both physical and mental of holding their innocent parents and best friends dying in their hands – murdered and now just another unnoticed statistic for the world to ignore.

 

As internationals we have received the benefits of the strongest form of resistance the Palestinian people have possessed – the will to positively continue to find and spread joy, thanks to their determination to live every day to the full: an inspiration for all.

 

Palestine is an extraordinary place where every day is a new adventure. I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of this land and undoubtedly this will be the first of many visits here. I only hope I and us all can repay even a small fraction of what we have received and spread the word in our respective countries about what is happening here… thank you Zajel.


 

 

Zain « Mohammed Almasri – Jordan

Nablus, my home that I was not fortunate enough to be raised in

 

I close my eyes, and I see the last three weeks of my life like an old silent movie before me. I see pictures of Nablus, my home that I was not fortunate enough to be raised in, among its warm infinitely struggling hills and mountains. A warm feeling imprisons me as I remember that sacred odor; Nablus’s odor that will stay with me for the rest of my life, even if I am destined to leave Nablus this time.

 

Pictures from this great city have conquered my mind. Now I see myself standing in front of the compound Building which was completely destroyed by Israeli soldiers last week. The looks on the Palestinians faces and the unexplainable strength in their eyes, that increases as time goes by, has always captured my heart, and formed important lessons that are not to fade, for this time dust is too heavy for wind to blow away.

 

I am leaving but my soul and deepest sentiments will stay with the Old City clinging to its long standing walls in the face of occupation. I am coming back, Inshallah, with the desire to make a change and help out. So this is not really a goodbye, it is just a temporary farewell to those who I truly admire and love.


 

 

Zubair Hoosen – South Africa

Many moments of laughter

 

This was a very interesting experience for me. There were so many people from different countries. I enjoyed the many discussions we had between western and Palestinian Muslim culture. There were many moments of laughter that we (local & internationals) shared, and then there were times where people told stories which brought a tear to many.

 

I will never forget a kid in drama class. We were playing a game where everyone was asked to close their eyes and think of a happy place. The kid, nine years old, mentioned his happy place when he will meet with his dad in Paradise. (His father was killed by an Israeli soldier two years earlier.) This brought tears to all the volunteers that were in the class.

 

In the evening we were always taken to a different and exciting place. I will always remember the breathtaking views of Nablus from these rooftops. Thanks to Zajel for organizing such an interesting and informative work camp. I look forward to visiting Nablus again… soon!

 

 

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